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Rabbi's Messages

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shalom L’Kulam (Peace, Everyone),

Unless the Post Office somehow delayed the arrival of this newsletter, you’re receiving it during the week that we’re reading in the Torah about Moses on Mount Sinai, the divinely inspired creativity of Betzalel and the construction of the Golden Calf. Parshat Ki Tissa shows us three great examples of learning: Moses is given a recipe to mix up incense the way God likes, Betzalel is suddenly divinely inspired to become the most creative artisan who has ever lived, and then the Israelite people learn about the consequences of their impatience.

     Think about how often you learn something at this point in your life. You are probably not struggling with the long division of your school days but you’re still learning how to control your behavior in difficult situations with difficult people. You still learn about the others in your life and how to be in healthy relationships with them. You still learn about what it means to be confidently yourself in ways you never could have, even 20 years ago! And, as we approach our final days, the lucky among us use our new perspective to ask the important questions: Were our lives meaningful? Did we make a difference? Did we leave behind a legacy? This was our journey; this will have been the measure of our growth.

     It is my firm belief, based on experience and observation, that we make the greatest progress in our personal growth when we do so under the tutelage of others. We get further when we build upon the hard-won understandings of our elders and our teachers. When we collaborate, we accomplish more and we enjoy the effort beyond what we could have as individuals. And I think all of this happens in powerful ways here at Temple Sinai.

     We pass on Jewish knowledge to our fellow members and the children of our Kehillah Kedoshah – our Sacred Community. We teach history, ritual and ethics. We wrestle with the meaning of current events through a Jewish lens. We volunteer out in the larger community as representatives of Temple Sinai and we are energized to make our city, state and country a more perfect version God’s prescription. All of this describes the opportunities for growth that this congregation strives to provide.

     A congregation’s mission statement is both descriptive and prescriptive of these opportunities. For those interested in finding a like minded community, it shares an important element of how we see ourselves. And for those of us already here, the mission statement can help us determine where we put our precious resources of time, attention and energy. We have recently unveiled our new mission statement and it is focused on what we believe we can offer fellow travelers on this road of individual and communal growth. Written by a large group of your fellow Sinai members and refined by leaders and engaged volunteers just like you, it is something I’m very proud of. I sure wish there was some way I could get a drum roll!


TEMPLE SINAI is a progressive, Reform Jewish congregation dedicated to the spiritual, social and intellectual development of our members through engaging worship, community involvement and inspiring learning within a caring, responsive and inclusive extended family. Growth Happens Here.


     I have just posted the Mission Statement on our Facebook page. It would be great if you would take a few minutes to visit, like and comment on what it means to you.

L’shalom, In Peace
 

Jay TelRav

 

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January-February, 2018

Shalom L’Kulam 
(Peace, Everyone),

I like stories – One of my favorite movies is Big Fish; a heartwarming movie about tales. I like hearing the stories of a person’s life and I like to invite people to come sit with me to share some of their story. Just as I enjoy hearing them, I think others enjoy telling their chronicles. Too rarely do others ask and really listen to each other. Too rarely do we get to decide what we wish to tell about ourselves and how we want to deliver it. Most people seem to really appreciate this as one of the ways of developing a relationship with me as their rabbi. 

     I really do see each of us as a narrative – and I feel that how we choose to present it says a lot. It will depend on who the recipient is and how safe we feel and will impact what we include and what we choose to skip. I particularly love listening for the salient moments in one’s life that they share with me – they often explain a lot. And I appreciate when they can identify those points at which their path diverged from the direction they’d been headed and they chose a new way forward for themselves. 

     Of course, this makes me think of the great American poem by Robert Frost. (Note that I’ve only included the first and the last stanzas of “The Road Less Travelled” for no other reason than a shortage of space.) In Frost’s communications with his biographer, he explained that the poem described his friend, Thomas: “a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other.” In other words, Frost complained that his work was being popularly misunderstood. He was not trying to encourage readers to avoid following the crowd as we all thought, he wished to remind us that every moment is ripe with the opportunity to take a new road. That is to say, “I took the one less traveled by (myself!).”

     Judaism today, IMHO*, serves well to connect us with others who are on their own journey. Good religion connects us with those who are growing emotionally and spiritually just like we are as we age. Feeling the embrace of a sacred community emboldens us to ask ourselves the hard questions: Is this the path best suited to me? Am I overdue for a change?

     Just as the Torah is the story of our people, so too your life is the Torah of your soul. But, while we take great care to ensure that the details of every sefer Torah are absolutely identical, your personal Torah is more akin to a choose-your-own-adventure book; the ending is completely up to you. The Exodus from Egypt relates a point in the story of the Israelite People at which they decide they are ready for something new. When have you had your personal exoduses from Egypt and is there another one coming up?

     If you’ve got a story to tell and you need someone to help you craft the next chapter, I bet you already know who it is. Ask that person – partner, psychologist, rabbi or friend – to listen to something you tell them about your story and to tell you what they think. Ask them to tell you what they recommend and then consider their advice carefully – if you chose them, it’s because you trust them. 

     And finally, if you sense that someone is trying to tell you something significant about themselves (even if it isn’t obvious that they’re doing it), make a point to try to sanctify that person’s Torah by listening attentively. Try to receive that story as a sacred gift and then see what gifts you have to give back to them.

L’shalom, In Peace

     Jay TelRav

*In My Humble Opinion – if you were not familiar with this acronym, you could have asked someone under the age of 20.
 

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December, 2017

Shalom L’Kulam (Peace, Everyone),

I recently had a chance to speak with a couple of colleagues. As rabbis tend to do, we began asking about each others’ congregations. I found myself telling them about you and, as I was enjoying myself bragging about Sinai, it occurred to me that I should probably share some of this with you, too.

     Often, other rabbis might mention their congregation’s membership numbers or what budgetary matters they spend the most time focused upon (usually a negative trend that they have been unable to counter). But I usually end up describing “human capital” of Temple Sinai. I tell them how lucky I am to have the people I do. The presidents I’ve worked with, the officers of the executive Leadership Team, the trustees of the board and the volunteers throughout the congregation are always amazing to me and have proven to be the greatest asset (by far!) that I’ve found in Stamford.

     I was really shocked to realize that Temple Sinai and my previous 1,100 family congregation in Denver present remarkably similar programs. The complexity of our religious schools, the robust variety of our adult education offerings and the breadth of our social events are hard to distinguish from each other. And, the amount of volunteerism here is far more than I recall in that community – three times the size of ours. All of this is because of YOU!

     When I need help with finances at the synagogue, there are congregants who are experts and are more than willing to offer their advice. When we need help with building something, we have people in the business who are endlessly generous with their time and expertise. If there is a legal question there are lawyers who are ready to offer counsel. Experts in corporate leadership are ready to coach me toward professional excellence and those of you who are natural caregivers are more than ready to step forward and cook for, drive or visit with Sinai members who find themselves in a period of challenge. In fact, it seems the only skill that we need that I haven’t been able to identify in our congregation are those who have a bent towards marketing.

     When, in the Torah, the Israelites are ready to build something beautiful they are led by an artisan named Bezalel. Of course, he could never do it alone and so he is joined by “all those of willing heart.” It is a wonderful narrative about how, when everybody chips in to create their moving tabernacle, product is greater than the sum of its parts. Concerning this passage, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “In carrying out the word of the Torah [the individual] is ushered into the presence of spiritual meaning…. Right living is a way to right thinking.” (God in Search of Man, p. 282) In other words, the individuals working toward the collective goal turned out to be the ones who benefitted individually even more than the community.

     This  – Kehillah Kedoshah – Sacred Community is teeming with talent and generosity and, if you’re not already contributing your skills but you feel like you’ve got something to offer, maybe it is time you gave me or Larry Stoogenke a call to talk about how you’d like to get involved. We’re right on the cusp of reaching our fullest potential…the only thing missing is that one thing that you have to give. Particularly if you are interested in helping start a marketing committee.

L’Shalom – In Peace,
 

Rabbi Jay TelRav

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November, 2017


Shalom L’Kulam (Peace, Everyone),

College began for me at a small engineering school in Michigan. I was headed into industrial work in the auto industry. The internship I held for two years was fun, but I could see that it wasn’t going to provide a fulfilling life. I jumped the rails of my own trajectory and headed into the unknown – certainly unaware that I would become a rabbi. As I considered the options, this path held interest for me for many reasons including the fact that there would always be something interesting waiting for me each day. That has certainly proven true and I’m always surprised by how many people, young and old, ask me, “just what do you do all day?” Seemed like a chance to share a glimpse at a typical week with you to provide an idea of what your rabbi is doing all day long.

     I think about my time in several different “buckets.” There is Teaching, Counseling, LifeCycle, Administration and Worship. My kids have attended the Sara Walker Nursery School in our own building for the last four years, so I drop them off at 9:00am and head down the hall to my study. There are always plenty of emails and voicemails to get through and then I begin meetings shortly after. I have weekly meetings with the staff collectively and individually to watch what they’re working on and help iron out details. I work with the president each week on initiatives and individual issues, and I speak with the vice presidents of each portfolio regularly. There are staff timesheets and travel logs to sign, letters to draft, thank you notes to write and newsletters to compose.

     Jayne serves as my gatekeeper, ensuring that I don’t overbook meetings with congregants, b’nai mitzvah kids, community leaders or others. When you call and she says that I don’t have any appointments until late next week, she’s not overstating! Each week, I have to schedule time to plan my teaching. I’ve got Monday morning and Wednesday evening comparative religions classes, Friday evening sermon, Saturday morning Torah Study. On Sunday I have services with the kids, our Schiff Tichon Sinai program with the teens and Mussar with the adults. Unfortunately, much of that planning gets pushed to the evenings after I put the little ones to bed. I know…not particularly healthy.

     I tend to get my “grown up” meetings done by about 3:00pm and then the kids start showing up. I meet with every one of our bar and bat mitzvah students about eight times and then we do a full 1.5 hour rehearsal before the Big Day. We celebrate between 25-35 b’nai mitzvah a year. You can do the math…I just know that they come in rapid succession all afternoon until my evening meetings and classes begin! We have committee meetings, board meetings and the Leadership Team meeting with the congregation’s officers. And every week, I have a learning session with my chevruta – a congregant with whom I’ve been studying an ancient mussar text for quite a while now. These sessions are really important to my personal and professional growth.

     The counseling with adults covers a wide gamut from career advice to spiritual struggle, from bumps in the road in marriage to their health concerns for themselves or their loved ones, from families who have fallen in love with Sinai’s reputation and want to join to those who have struggled with some aspect of the congregation and want to share their upset…(thankfully there are more of the former than the latter). And, lately, I’ve sat with a number of you to ask if you can help Temple Sinai with the costs of building a badly needed chapel and library.

     And, of course, there is the lifecycle work. Thankfully, I do not often have to drop everything and run to the hospital to be with someone in crisis – though it does happen. I also make less urgent visits to the hospitals, rehabilitation centers and homes all the time. I meet with families for funerals and I do about six months of preparatory meetings with each couple before I officiate at their wedding. The ceremonies for new babies (naming and bris) are among the most fun, but the funerals are the most meaningful to me.

     I do honor Tuesday as my Shabbat – trying not to spend time on email, the phone or other work (despite the fact that I’m writing this today on a Tuesday). Jayne knows that Thursday evenings are not available – I leave at 5:00pm to have dinner with my family. Like all the rest of you, I’m over-stretched trying to do too much that is all important to me. But I work on balance too.

     Rabbinical school never prepared me for a lot of this but I’ve surrounded myself with rabbinic and lay mentors who guide me through what I don’t know. And, the further I get in my career, the more I become a mentor for others – sharing with them the gifts that God bestowed upon me. As you can see, my professional life gets pretty crazy, but please know that I will always make time for each and every one of you.

L’Shalom – In Peace,

Rabbi Jay TelRav

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October, 2017

Shalom L’Kulam (Peace, Everyone

Holidays are freshly over and we are ready to settle back in to the blessed routines of our lives, but wait…before you return to the very same responsibilities and obligations to which you have been accustomed, allow me to make a suggestion:

     The past many years, I’ve been forming small groups of adults who would like the opportunity to celebrate an adult Bat Mitzvah. I say “bat” because there are very few males who find the experience appropriate. Either they were given the opportunity to read from the Torah when they were young or they were not but don’t particularly desire the chance now. If you ask any of the adult celebrants, you’ll hear that the experience is so much more than preparing for the “big day” but I still have a very difficult time filling that cohort.

     On the other hand, I speak with my teenage students about how, after fulfilling their parents’ expectations of Bar Mitzvah, they have the opportunity to reengage as Jewish adults – of their own volition – and to Confirm their place in the community upon completion of the 10th grade. During those years in between, I meet with our students to operationalize the traditions, values and meanings they’ve accumulated. We discuss career choices, religious options, ethical conundra, politics, healthy relationships and Jewish pride – on campus and beyond. This group of teens has continued to grow year after year and they report finding it to be a surprisingly cool way to experience Judaism.

     Why should this be limited to our teens? You, too, have made commitments along the way in your Jewish journey but it remains important for all of us to “check in” and to Confirm what our place in the Jewish community means to us today. The news presents us with stories every day that challenge our sense of right and wrong. The religious messages coming from other traditions leave us disoriented. The ethics of geopolitics and the dynamics of healthy relationships are always ready for our examination.

     To that end, I’m writing to invite you to register for the very first cohort of Adult Confirmation. Starting on the evening of October 25 from 6-7:00pm, we will gather to re-think, re-order and Re-form our Judaism. Nothing is off the table – nothing is assumed. This is for adults of all ages, all levels of Jewish education and all religions. The format will be based upon a survey of major religions in America. We will spend the first half of each session learning about an aspect of another faith and then the second half using that understanding to compare and contrast its expression in Judaism. There will be guest presenters from other religions and we’ll be taking field trips to worship with our neighboring Stamford houses of worship.

     2000 years ago, Rabbi Hillel warned us: “Don’t say, ‘I will study when I find free time – because you may never find free time.’” This might be just the method you’ve been yearning for to address that nagging desire to stimulate a part of your brain that has been at rest for too long! Call the Temple Office to let us know we can expect you.

     L’Shalom – In Peace,

Rabbi Jay TelRav

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September, 2017

Shalom L’Kulam
(Peace, Everyone),


Our Jewish traditions are so strong and successful because they are flexible. We’ve demonstrated this time and again through history and it’s no different today. We hold on to the best of our past, and we honor our roots as we respond to our present and prepare for our future. Part of what Cantor Micah and I work to achieve is an engaging experience of Judaism that is both rooted in our history, and relevant and engaging. Of course, in today’s fast-paced world, that often means that good ideas have a short shelf-life.

     We typically develop a programmatic idea for the congregation, and your excitement around the experience is so high that we repeat it the next year. But we rarely run a program or attempt an experience for a third year in a row. We know that it will fall short of our own standards of excellence – we’ll be bored and so will you. It is why you so often see us changing up the program offerings year after year. This coming year will be no different.

     We’ve spent the last few years doing some summer services at the Bartlett Arboretum but this year, we moved to our own property and have seen terrific turn out as we celebrate our warm summer shabbatot under the stars. Three years of the Wine, Cheese and Chocolate seder have been fun, but this year we’re doing away with it and will be spending Tu B’Shvat building terraria, creating beauty just as God’s world is created beauty. (Don’t worry, we’ll still have wine and chocolate.) And there will be a few changes for the High Holy Days this year, too.

     For the last few years we’ve been holding our family services at Northeast School and it has worked out great…for the most part. But, we were really limited by the physical space in the auditorium and have decided to move these services to the JCC this year. (Offsite parking for all congregants will be at the JCC and shuttle busses to the temple will still be provided.) The last few years, we’ve had a quiet, contemplative space for 2nd Day Rosh Hashanah, but this year we have decided to develop that time into a full service making it early and at 8:30am so folks won’t need to take another day off work in order to have a full, yet more intimate, holiday service, complete with Torah, shofar and an interactive study session. And the Cantor and I have made some liturgical changes that you might find surprising and hopefully pleasant.

     As with everything we do, we seek the delivery of a Judaism that reflects your values, meets your needs and speaks to your experience as a member of a progressive modern community. I’m so proud to serve Temple Sinai as your spiritual leader and look forward to 5778 as your partner.

 – L’Shanah Tovah u’M’tukah,
May it be a Good and Sweet New Year,

Jay TelRav

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July-August, 2017
he Rabbi's Messages
Shalom L’Kulam – Hi All,
 

If you have had a son or daughter who has celebrated becoming a bar or bat mitzvah with me at Temple Sinai, then you might remember this moment at the rehearsal before the big day. We practice the reading of the Students’ Prayer of Thanksgiving and, when we get to the next sentence, I ask the student to pause and we discuss the content. It reads: “As a Bar (Bat) Mitzvah, I have now taken upon myself the mitzvah of Jewish learning. In the presence of my family and teachers, I pledge this day to continue my Jewish studies and that I will always be involved in Jewish life.” We discuss what a pledge means and what they are really promising. I remind them that Judaism does not demand nor expect that they say anything that they don’t believe or feel comfortable with and I ask them to consider their ability to make this pledge. Every once in a while I meet a kid who can’t wait to drop out of religious school and who says s/he doesn’t wish to say this but most are pretty comfortable delivering the statement – particularly when I tell them I’ll still respect them even if they find themselves unable to fulfill the commitment.
     Similarly, our tradition has always taken the power of Words very seriously. Long ago, our rabbis were wordsmithing our prayers to ensure that they spoke the sentiment and reflected the values of those who spoke them. The Aleinu originally had a sentence that was intended as a polemic against paganism which read “they bow down to emptiness and vanity and they pray to a god who will not save them.” Though it was not directed at Christians, our ancestors understood that it could be misunderstood and so they removed it from nearly all Ashkenazic prayer books starting in about the year 1350 CE. (Sephardim didn’t live amongst Christians as prevalently and so it was not understood to be the same concern.)
     Our Amidah prayers traditionally acknowledged how much we value the legacy of our Patriarchs. Of course, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are powerful figures in our people’s identity. But, in ways the rabbis of 1st century CE could never have understood, we now value our Matriarchs on par with those men. Our liturgy provides equal acknowledgement of the roles played by Sarah Rebekah, Rachel and Leah.
     The traditional liturgy presents us with an important template. When we apply our God-given commitment to the integrity of what we’re saying we sometimes realize it needs a little work. Take, for example, the end of the Kaddish. It reads:

          Oseh Shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu v’al kol Yisrael.
     The straightforward meaning of this is: May the One who causes peace to reign in heaven cause peace to fall upon us and upon all Jews. To a person, everyone I’ve spoken with has shared my belief that this sentiment stops short of its full potential; that is, none of us will enjoy true peace until everyone experiences it. It was a progressive and respectable statement considering it was written in a time by people who knew nothing of globalization and the transcendent nature of the human community. Today, our world is much smaller and we feel collective responsibility, even for those we’ve never met on the far side of the globe.
     Which is why the Cantor and I have been adding a few extra words to the end of our Kaddish for the last couple of months. To ensure that our liturgy reflects our current reality and commitment to the global community, not just to our local, we’re adding  – v’al yoshvei tevel – which means, “and every inhabitant of the earth.” In aligning ourselves with most other Progressive congregations out there, we also align our liturgy with the values of its users!
     Our politics are re-examined as we age. Our self-image is revised as we grow. Our priorities are re-ordered as we learn. Our liturgy is re-written as we mature. Our Judaism Reforms as we re-form!

L’shalom, In Peace

Jay TelRav

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The President's Messages
President's Messages

Building our Kehillah Kedoshah – our Sacred Community – an important part of our collective work. It is something the Leadership Team and Trustees focus on consistently. In alignment with our clergy, we are all committed to providing many opportunities for you to join us on this journey.

     Recently, Seth Godin, in his blog post Everyone’s watching (no one is watching) shared, “When you’re doing something you’d rather hide, when you’re cutting corners, breaking promises or acting like a bully, it’s fair to assume that plenty of people are watching. And when you’ve got a new project to launch, an act of generosity you want to share or an announcement to make, it’s useful to imagine that those very same people are doing something else. Positive signals are often weak signals. We need to be prepared to offer them with consistency, to keep showing up in the face of apparent apathy. It’s not apathy; it’s merely people who are too busy and distracted to slow down and hear you enough to appreciate you (at first).

     After reading Seth’s blog I began to reflect on the past few months at Temple Sinai. I realized how his message tied directly to our collective efforts to build our Kehillah Kedoshah and wanted to make sure you are aware of some of them. Come with me on a journey back to last December when a group from Temple Sinai attended the Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) Biennial Conference in Boston. Our delegation represented you proudly as we joined more than 5,000 URJ members to pray, learn and share ideas. Needless to say, there was no apathy amongst our delegation and we did slow down to appreciate how meaningful our time together in Boston was. We talked about how we could bring some of what we learned and the energy we felt back to Stamford. Hopefully, some of that has been communicated to you since then.

     Flash forward to late January when Temple Sinai proudly hosted the Reform Jewish Youth Movement (NFTY) Regional Winter Kallah. Many of you hosted teens who joined our SoSTY group for a weekend of retreating. It was great to have so many committed youth join us for Shabbat Services and then know they were engaged in Jewish learning for the next few days at Temple Sinai. Rest assured, there was no apathy amongst that group and plenty of people will be watching as they become the future leaders of our congregation.

     We will all come together for the Temple Sinai Gala on March 17 when we will honor Myrna and George Sessa for their tireless work in building our sacred community. We’ll also show our appreciation to Sally Kelman and Lisa Silver as Pillars of Our Community. It is my hope that all of you will be watching as we celebrate these outstanding members of our temple family.

     In past years, the spring has meant it’s time to retreat. This year is no different as the Men’s and Women’s Retreats will allow us the opportunity to slow down and focus on ourselves for a few days. The spring also reminds us that it’s time to give back to our temple through Mitzvah Day (May 6). Please make sure you let us know you’ll be able to participate in this important day of service.

     I hope you get the idea. Seth feels we need to share these positive activities with more consistency. Please join us, embrace these opportunities and then let others know of your experience.

     Growth happens here!


     Marc Friedman
     president@templesinaistamford.org

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The President's Messages
January-February, 2018

Do not look behind you! Genesis 19:17

Recently I joined Alan Barr, Betsy & Mike Stone and Steve Zales for the Union of Reform Judaism’s Day of Learning focused on “How Successful Congregations Change.” We joined leaders from congregations across the U.S. to learn and share best practices.

     As you may agree, change is hard. Many people say they want change. When asked who wants to change, not many people lean in. Many feel comfortable doing things the way they’ve done them for years. And that’s okay for some things.

     We need to accept that we are living in a time of rapid constant change and uncertain futures. Change is essential for our survival on many levels. Change is exciting, challenging and full of opportunity. When thought out prudently, change provides for opportunity and growth.

     During the day of learning we talked about what Temple Sinai needs to do to embrace change. We also talked about allowing a bunch of little experiments that will enable us to test change in a prudent way. Rabbi TelRav has done this several times over the past few years. From the seating configuration in the sanctuary, to adding a second day Rosh Hashanah service, to sitting during the Shema in some situations, he has encouraged us to experiment in our own ways.

     I must admit that I am a generally considered a late adopter and resistant to change. When Rabbi suggested there are times when it’s okay to sit for the Shema, I was blown away. Ever since I was a little kid I stood for the Shema with my eyes wide open. Recently Rabbi TelRav challenged all of us to approach the Shema in a different way. As you know, the Shema is the centerpiece of the daily morning and evening prayer services and is considered by some the most essential prayer in all of Judaism. An affirmation of God’s singularity and kingship, its daily recitation is regarded by traditionally observant Jews as a biblical commandment.

     Knowing how important the Shema is to me and my religion, I wondered if it was really okay to sit during this centerpiece of my daily prayers? And what would my spiritual experience feel like if I closed my eyes during Shema? Both of these were little experiments that I was willing to embrace.

     While I’m still not 100% comfortable sitting during the Shema, I love closing my eyes so that I can focus on the declaration of my Jewish faith, I’ll continue with both of these experiments and see where these changes take me.

     One thing for sure is that we cannot be afraid to fail as we try these little experiments. In order to stay relevant and exciting, we must all embrace change and try our own little experiments.

     Look for more of these experiments from our clergy, Leadership Team and staff as we prepare Temple Sinai for its future.

     Growth happens here!


     Marc Friedman
     president@templesinaistamford.org

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November, 2017

Earlier this year I attended the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Scheidt Seminar for President-elects of Reform synagogues. Future leaders from across our country came together for five days of learning, praying and developing sacred partnerships. During our time together we were inspired to:

  • Build and maintain sacred partnerships between the professionals and lay leaders at Temple Sinai.
  • Take action on new ideas.
  • Be bold and share new ideas with our sacred congregational partners.
  • Be intentional and reflective in our leadership.
  • Develop our own personal Torah of Jewish leadership and keep exploring our personal connection to our sacred tradition.
  • Keep learning as we lead.

     While at Scheidt, I also was able to spend some one-on-one time with Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President, Union for Reform Judaism. I asked Rabbi Jacobs for advice on how successful congregations lead change and what his vision of a great president looks like. As expected, Rabbi Jacobs had great advice on these topics and on how to lead a rich and meaningful Jewish life. I’d love to share his advice with you over tea if you’re interested.

     In reflecting upon my time at Scheidt, it is clear to me that Temple Sinai is already a leader when it comes to developing and engaging its lay leadership. Our Amidah Leadership Initiative, where we are developing the future leaders of our congregation, is one that other congregations are just now starting to replicate … and we’ve been doing it for years!  Some of my colleagues at Scheidt shared that they were nowhere close to being able to start such a program. At Temple Sinai this program is already an important part of our culture. This is just one example of why I feel we are in a great position to lead change, thus ensuring we are a strong, vibrant congregation for years to come.

     Recently I went through the many pages of notes I took while at Scheidt and reflected upon the ideas generated there. One of them was to establish realistic goals for each member of Temple Sinai’s Leadership Team (formerly the President’s Executive Council). During our Leadership Team Retreat this past summer, we spent time thinking about what those could be. In the coming months, I’ll be sharing the goals of the Leadership Team with you. For now here are my goals. In addition to the “normal” responsibilities of being your president, I’m going to focus on the following:

  • Along with Rabbi TelRav: moving forward the importance of kehilah kedoshah, building our sacred community, in every aspect of Temple Sinai.
  • Board development: ensuring that every board seat is filled with a committed member who is authentically engaged in Temple Sinai.
  • Fund raising and marketing: establishing a development and marketing committee that will guide these two functions. Would you like to join Seth Diamond, Shelley Leibowitz, Mike Stone (Chair) and Roberta Sultzer on this newly formed committee? If so, please let me know.
  • Operationalizing various functions: working with our clergy and staff to improve efficiencies in many aspects of our temple.
  • Capital improvements: working with various committees to determine which capital improvements we need/can undertake this year and beyond.


     We’re off to a fantastic start and I’m inspired by the work that many of you are doing. I look forward to learning, praying and developing sacred partnerships with many of you as we make sure that Temple Sinai is poised for the future.

Growth happens here!


Marc Friedman
president@templesinaistamford.org

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October, 2017

Our Temple Sinai family has just completed our most sacred time of year. Starting with Rosh Hashanah and continuing through Simchat Torah we came together for prayer, reflection and spiritual growth. I hope that you and your family were inspired as I was by all of our services.

Annual Giving Campaign

     As I mentioned during Rosh Hashanah services, it is Temple Sinai’s tradition to reach out to you now and ask for your support of our Annual Giving Campaign. We are coming off an extraordinary year at Temple Sinai. We enjoyed a spiritually uplifting music program, a dynamic religious school experience for our youth, and a UNITY Project that brought us all together. We studied Mussar, retreated and prayed with our growing family. Our Rabbi, Cantor and Educator led us through a year that was welcoming to all. And, thanks in part to our Gala and your support throughout the year, we ended the year with a modest surplus.

     During the High Holy Days Rabbi TelRav shared with us his vision for building our kehilah kedoshah – sacred community. His vision is filled with new programs, innovative learning opportunities for all and, led by Cantor Morgovsky, a music program that will help us build our community.

     In order for this to happen I am asking for your support for our Annual Giving Campaign. Keep in mind our membership contributions cover only a portion of our operating budget and we rely heavily on supplemental fundraising to finance our programs.

An Additional Request – Chapel / Library Project

     Also, it is with great excitement that I share with you an extraordinary opportunity to help build our future. Our plan is to fully enclose the existing courtyard in our school building and transform it into a light-drenched multipurpose space that will serve as an intimate chapel, meeting space, adult and child educational classroom and small dining space. The adjacent space will become an updated, 21st century library that will serve as a learning center for students of all ages.

     To make this vision a reality, I am asking you to help make the Chapel/ Library Project a reality by pledging an additional gift that can be paid over two years. The Chapel will be built entirely with capital contributions, so our operating budget will not be affected. Several congregants have already come forward with leadership gifts to get this project off the ground. Now we need everyone’s support, at whatever level of support is comfortable, to make it happen.

     A few weeks ago, you should have received a letter from me with a pledge card. If you have not returned your pledge card please do so this week. Or, mail in the form at the bottom of this page. You can even make your donation online by selecting Temple Sinai Annual Giving Campaign on our web site, www.templesinaistamford.org.

     On behalf of your board, clergy and staff, thank you in advance for joining me in building our kehilah kedoshah – sacred community. Growth happens here!

Marc Friedman
president@templesinaistamford.org

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he President's Messages
September, 2017

Dear Temple Sinai Family,

I find myself still humming the words from Hamilton, The Musical as performed by our very own Ruach during its inaugural year-end concert in June. It was a Shabbat I will always remember and am sure many of you will too. That night culminated a year at Temple Sinai that was unprecedented on many levels.

     A few weeks later I found myself in a remote village (no electricity or running water) in Malawi, Africa where I joined hundreds of community members to break ground on a primary school. There, on behalf of buildOn, the non-profit organization I work for, I enjoyed the Malawian version of Ruach. For days on end, hundreds of women, men and children were singing and dancing while building a primary school for their kids.

     These two experiences provided me with a spiritual high that carried me through the summer. And now it’s time to turn our energy to the High Holy Days, one of the most meaningful times of the year for the Temple Sinai family. Our temple is buzzing with anticipation of the year ahead. Our clergy and staff are back from well-deserved summer breaks and have prepared a fall that will provide an opportunity for each of us to learn and grow, just like the community members in Malawi. The only difference is that we already have our “school.”

     Before I headed to Malawi, Rabbi TelRav and I spent a few days camping and retreating in upstate New York. Sitting around the campfire and while hiking to a breathtaking waterfall, we talked a lot about what Temple Sinai will look like in five and ten years. We reflected on how amazing the previous year was and established our aspirations for the year 5778. In addition to the “normal” responsibilities of being your president, I’m going to focus on the following:

  • Board development: ensuring every board seat is filled with a committed member that is authentically engaged in Temple Sinai.
  • Fund raising and marketing: establishing a development and marketing committee that will guide these two functions. Just drop me a note if you would you like to join Seth Diamond, Shelley Leibowitz, Mike Stone (Chair) and Roberta Sultzer on this newly formed
  • Operationalizing various functions: working with our clergy and staff to improve efficiencies in many aspects of our temple.
  • Capital improvements: working with various committees to upgrade our “school.”

     As we head into this sacred time of year I’d like each of you to think about one aspect of Temple Sinai that you want to lean in on. What do you want to learn more about? Where can you lend some of your precious time? Lastly, if you love this Temple Sinai family, ask yourself who is missing and share an invitation with that person. We’d love to welcome them in the way we’ve welcomed you. Then shoot me an email, let me know where I’ll be seeing more of you and whom you’ll be bringing with you.

     I look forward to praying with you over the High Holy Days and learning with many of you in Mussar. G’mar Chatimah Tovah – May you be inscribed for Good.


     Marc Friedman
     president@templesinaistamford.org

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July-August, 2017

President's MessagesJu
Dear Temple Sinai Family,

Thank you for the distinct honor of becoming the next president of our spiritual home. Please know this is a responsibility I take very seriously and I will do my best to meet (and exceed) your expectations. While I’ve met many of you over the years, whether at Shabbat Services, in Brotherhood meetings, on the recent temple trip to Israel or while studying Mussar, I know there are a lot of you to whom I’ve not yet been able to say hello.
     It would be great to have tea (I’m not a coffee drinker) with you in the near future. In case that doesn’t happen, I’d like to share with you part of my personal story. This way if you have something really nice to say about the Temple, you’ll feel comfortable sharing your kind words with me. Born in Detroit, I grew up in a near-by suburb, went to college in Kalamazoo and then headed to the east coast.
     My dad was the cantor at Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield, MI where I had my Bar Mitzvah a few years ago. In the very small world category, it’s the same synagogue where Rabbi TelRav had his Bar Mitzvah and yes, my dad was his cantor. While we didn’t know each other growing up (he constantly reminds me that I’m a bit older than he is) our parents were friends and shared the same passion for Temple Kol Ami.
     That passion was also instilled in me from an early age by my dad as he was very active in temple life, even taking his turn as president. He was always going to temple meetings, rehearsing for the High Holy Days or sitting on one of many committees. To this day, my dad is still involved in his temple and a role model for my commitment to Jewish life.
     For the past 25 years I’ve committed myself to breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education while working at the nonprofit buildOn. Having been at buildOn since its founding I’ve witnessed the power that a group of like-minded people can have when they come together as ONE.
     Similarly, I’ve seen the Temple Sinai family come together as ONE on several occasions. From the Unity Project to the Gala and more, it’s inspiring to be part of this warm, welcoming and inclusive family. A lot of the credit goes to Rabbi TelRav for being a remarkable spiritual leader and a lot of the credit goes to you, the congregation, for stepping up in so many ways.
     As a member of the LGBT community I’m thrilled to experience the inclusive gestures made by so many of you. It’s my hope that others in my community will also make their way to Temple Sinai and have a similar experience.
     I’m looking forward to working with a very dedicated Leadership Team which includes Alan Barr, Alan Cohen, Wendy Lewis, Stu Madison, Amanda Sherman and Steve Zales. It’s been an honor to be mentored over the past year by our current president, Gloria Skigen. Gloria has fast become a great friend who was very patient in getting me up to speed on what I needed to learn before accepting the gavel from her. We all owe Gloria a huge THANK YOU for her unwavering commitment to our temple!
     In closing, I have come to appreciate that our congregation thrives using the spiritual advice of our prayer book, “Pray as if everything depends on God and act as if everything depends on you.” I’m excited to work alongside of the Leadership Team, Board of Trustees, committee members and the entire congregation to ensure Temple Sinai grows and provides all of us with the sacred relationship we seek in our temple.  None of this can be done alone. We are all in this together.  

Warm regards,

Marc Friedman

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The Cantor's Messages

Cantor's Messages

clientuploads/Bio_Images_Leadership/micah_morgovsky.jpgDear Temple Sinai Family,

This past November, my mom, who just turned 70, went to the doctor because she was experiencing some unusual aches and pains. After many weeks of appointments, tests, scans, and biopsies, she was diagnosed with lymphoma. She started chemo right after New Year’s and she’s just finishing up her second round now. She’s got four more rounds to go and, God willing, when she’s all done, she’ll be cancer-free. With a course of action and a treatment plan underway, some of the worry and fear has abated and we’re all feeling optimistic. Overall, Mom is tolerating the chemo pretty well and she’s sporting a very fashionable wig these days.

     But, during those liminal weeks of waiting and not knowing, I was forced to face the possibility of my mom’s mortality. I cried constantly as I thought about not being able to call my mom to share with her some detail from my week, some small struggle or success. My heart ached wondering if she’d get to see my kids grow up, celebrate at their B’nei Mitzvah, dance at their weddings. And it was almost more than I could bear to imagine my dad alone in the house my parents have shared for almost forty years.

     Needless to say, this has been an incredibly stressful and scary time for me and my family, yet my level of distress and worry took me completely by surprise. “I know all about this,” I thought to myself. “I should be coping with this better.” Almost daily, I am in the position of offering help and support to a congregant struggling with illness, or watching someone they love dearly suffer some serious infirmity. Still, no amount of empathy for those to whom I offer pastoral support could have prepared me for experiencing these harrowing emotions for myself.

     You, my Temple Sinai family, have shown me such incredible love and support these past few months. I cannot begin to adequately express my gratitude and appreciation. I receive regular check-ins from so many of you: calls and emails, asking me how my mom is doing, how I’m holding up. Many of you text me to let me know you’re praying for my mom or to tell me that you’re thinking of me and sending prayers my way as well. I’ve even received donations to my discretionary fund from some of you in honor of my mom’s speedy recovery. I am overwhelmed, humbled and awed by all of these loving gestures.

     And I know so many of you have been down this road before, either as cancer survivors yourselves, or as adult children caring for an ailing parent. You know and understand how difficult it can be, and you let me know with a word, a glance, or a squeeze that it’s okay to fall apart, it’s okay to cry, and it’s normal to feel scared. You haven’t tried to make me feel better, to take away my hurt, or minimize my distress. You listened. You offered support. You let me cry. For all of this, all I can say is, “Thank you.”

     Even though I hope and pray I’ll have many, many more years with my parents, I know that nothing in this life lasts forever. Eventually, we will lose the ones we love and we have to figure out how to go on living without them. No one is spared hardship, loss or struggle, but it’s how we face these challenges that shapes our lives and informs our days. And, in turn, when we can use our experiences to help those around us, we enrich both their lives, and our own. This is the true meaning of Kehillah Kedoshah – our Sacred Community.  

     Thank you all for being my Kehillah Kedoshah, my sacred community, my beloved family.

B’Shira, in song,

Cantor Micah Morgovsky

 

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he Cantor's Messages

January-February, 2018

Dear Temple Sinai Family,

Some say that there are only two inevitabilities in this world – death and taxes. I would argue that there are two more unavoidable realities as well – dirty dishes and dirty laundry. Just as I have washed all the dishes in the sink, dried the pots and pans in the drain board, unloaded the dishwasher and put every plate, bowl and utensil back in its right place, I turn around and, lo and behold, the sink, drain board and dishwasher are full once again. The same goes for laundry. I gather up all the laundry lying around, I throw it into the hamper, transfer it to the laundry basket, bring it down to the laundry room, wash, dry, fold and put away all of the clean clothes and, in the next breath, it’s time to start all over again. I know I am not alone in the experience of this incredibly Sisyphean routine. It’s part of the hamster-wheel of life and, while I know many groan at the ceaseless and repetitive nature of these tasks, I actually love them. 

     As a creature of habit, I savor the predictability of these chores. I am comforted by the sense of control and order I feel while engaged in these tasks. I like knowing that these actions help to create a clean and orderly environment for me and my family. I appreciate that generations of homemakers have toiled in this way since the beginning of time. And I love that, for at least a moment, I am able to complete these simple acts before it’s time to start all over again. As strange as it may sound, for me, these daily routines have become sacred rituals and they infuse my days with purpose and meaning.

     Anthropologist Mary Douglas writes at length about the importance of daily and social rituals, which she calls framing, and how they give focus to our existence. She posits that, without rituals, certain types of experiences would not be possible. The rhythms and repetition of the days of the week, for example, give our lives structure and significance. Without this regular delineation of days and hours, our perception of time would be greatly altered. Regular rituals help shape our experience of life, transitioning us from moment to moment and, in their repetition, help us transform the mundane into the sacred. 

     The seventh day, Shabbat, is holy because we have set it aside from the other days of the week as a day of rest and reflection. The ritual of Shabbat becomes even more meaningful when we think about the generations of Jews who have observed this tradition for hundreds and hundreds of years. Nevertheless, the seventh day is only sacred because we, human beings, have decided it is so. We took something plain and ordinary – a day, 24 hours – and infused it with meaning.

     If the same holds true for the regular rituals of daily worship services, annual family reunions, holiday and secular observances, why can’t this practice extend to other routines as well? As our prayer book says, “entrances to holiness are everywhere.” Even in the dirty dishes and the pile of unfolded laundry. Every day is full of potentially holy moments, if we but recognize them and make them so. May we open our eyes to the sacred rituals we engage in every day. Through this awareness, these rituals allow us to be mindful, to appreciate and to sanctify each moment, filling our days with awe and gratitude. 

B’Shira, in song,

     Cantor Micah Morgovsky

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December, 2017

Crying in the Face of Adversity

In this day and age, there are so many reasons to cry. Turn on the news or read the headlines and we are bombarded with visions of a world filled with tragedy and hardship. It seems we exist in a perpetual news cycle of devastation from natural disaster to acts of violence and terrorism, and back again. It’s horrible and it’s painful to witness. Because of this, I shy away from watching or reading the news; I just can’t bring myself to do it. I know it’s irresponsible; I’m burying my head in the sand. I don’t mean to turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to what’s happening in the world but, in a way, it’s a kind of emotional self-preservation. When so many horrible things are happening constantly all around us, I fear I’ll become overwhelmed with sorrow and mired in the depths of despair. And when I can no longer hide from it, I weep. These are hot, angry, torturous tears I cannot bear to shed.

     Yet, every day, through the work Rabbi TelRav and I do as clergy, we are faced with equally gut-wrenching reasons for deep sorrowful emotions. Daily, we sit with those in our community who are struggling with serious illness, painful relationships, or the loss of loved ones. So often, I cry alongside our ill and dying congregants as they wrestle with their illness or come to terms with their own mortality. I shed tears with mourning congregants at funerals and shiva minyans, regardless of whether I knew the deceased. I sit and cry with those who are struggling to find connection and purpose in their lives. For me, these expressions of sadness hurt in a different way. These personal and tangible hardships are somehow softened by the beauty of humanity, our capacity to love and hope, our connections with one another. And, for some reason, I welcome these tears. These are tears of compassion and love, tears of longing and loss. These are tears I shed with reverence and humility.

     Nevertheless, just when it seems the oceans would overflow from the endless tide of tears, there’s still the capacity for more. From the terrible, to the sacred, to the mundane; sometimes I just need a good cry. I love to cry at the movies. I especially love it when the final pages of a good book make me weep. Often, a beautifully crafted poem sends tears streaming down my face. Frequently too, the words of our liturgy touch my heart and bring that familiar sting to the back of my eyes. And then of course, there’s music. There’s something so magically evocative about the combination of a melancholy lyric and a haunting melody. A mournful song has the power to reach deep into our hearts, connecting us to all the sadness and longing in the world, and we find ourselves weeping from its beauty and eloquence. I revel in these tears, I savor them and enjoy the gentle ache. These are tears of beauty and inspiration.

     Whatever the reason for our tears, may they spur us to reach up from the depths and take hold of one another. May the hurt in our hearts inspire us to be more compassionate, more patient, more loving. May our sorrows also allow us to recognize, and not take for granted, the myriad blessings in our lives. And may we cry together, finding solace in community and friendship.

     To that end, I look forward to crying (and laughing!) with you all at the Cantor’s Concert – Dream Anyway – Sunday, December 17.

B’Shira, in song,

     Cantor Micah Morgovsky

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November, 2017

Dear Temple Sinai Family,

Dream Anyway — Laughing and Crying in the Face of Adversity is the theme of this year’s Cantor’s Concert, scheduled for Sunday, December 17 at 4:30pm. As the title implies, we are living in challenging times globally, nationally and personally, but we mustn’t allow the struggles to diminish our hope and tarnish our vision for a better future. Music is always a powerful and effective means of expression. It helps give voice to our pain, our frustration, our yearning and our joy. Through it all, the power of a beautifully crafted lyric and a stirring melody can bring tears to our eyes, enable us to laugh at our failures or missteps, and fill us with awe and wonder. A song can remind us that we are not alone and can give us the strength to keep moving forward, despite hardships and loss. The music chosen for this year’s show will surely inspire all these feelings and more, bringing us together for what has become one of Temple Sinai’s favorite events. In conjunction with our celebration of Chanukah, we’ll join with our temple family to illuminate the dark of winter, as we kindle our festival candles and bring a joyous noise into the world.

     All of the proceeds from this benefit concert support Temple Sinai’s vibrant music program. Choose from the level of sponsorship and support that is comfortable for you. Please join us and give as generously as you can. Together we’ll laugh, we’ll cry and we’ll dream anyway…

B’Shira, in song,


Cantor Micah Morgovsky

 

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October, 2017

Dear Temple Sinai Family,

Yes, I’m a cantor, but I’m also a Jewish mom, complete with all the stereotypes that come with the title. I worry too much, I offer food (often and lots of it) to anyone who comes near me, and I unabashedly wield that age-old weapon – Jewish guilt – if someone ever lets me down. As a Jewish mom, I also care deeply about imparting our traditions, values and beliefs to our children, Ayalah (age 9) and Jonah (age 5).
 
     My husband, Ben, as many of you know, is also a rabbi, so our children are blessed (read the sarcasm here) to live in a dual clergy household. Not only that, they attend a Reform Jewish Day School, at which their father serves as the Rabbi-in-Residence. So one might think we’ve got the Judaism bit covered, that there’s no need to worry about our children’s Jewish identities.

     On the contrary, perhaps, even more than most, Ben and I scrutinize the Jewish choices we make for our family. Sometimes that may mean we decide to hold back on our home observances because our children are bombarded with Judaism all the time. To make sure that we don’t send them running in the opposite direction, we mete out our traditions quite carefully and intentionally.

     Yet, there are some Jewish practices that are an integral part of the rhythms and rituals of our household and that are intrinsic to who we are as a family. I was reflecting on these things recently, as Rabbi Jay was speaking to a group of parents at the opening day of Religious School last month. He was encouraging families to not only engage in Jewish education and practice at the temple, but also to bring Judaism into their homes, to “do Jewish” more often, and to make their Jewishness more a part of their everyday lives, both as parents of their children, but also personally, as individuals.

     As Rabbi Jay spoke, I realized it’s easier to “do Jewish” than one might think. He was not asking families to become Shomer Shabbat, to keep kosher, or even to attend services every week. Living Jewishly can be as simple as bringing moments of awareness and sanctity into our everyday lives. While there are many ways to do this, in our home, we have three Jewish customs we do every single day.

     For us, the day begins with each of us answering the same two questions, “What are you thankful for?” And “What are you excited for?” The acknowledgement of blessings in our lives and the expression of gratitude for those blessings sets the tone for the entire day and echoes the liturgy of the traditional morning prayers. Similarly, at every meal that we share, no matter what we’re eating, we say the blessing, “Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz.” Blessed are you, Adonai, Sovereign of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. Once again, we express gratitude for the food we are about to eat and bring a moment of mindfulness to the meal before us. And, lastly, every day ends with the singing of the Shema – the watchword of our faith – which declares that God is One and that each one of us is a part of that Oneness. In this way, we all end the day knowing that there’s something bigger than ourselves and that we, and everything in this universe, is all miraculously connected.

     Of course, there are myriad other expressions of Judaism one might chose to adopt: lighting candles on Shabbat, singing the Havdalah blessing on Saturday evening, or engaging in acts of social justice and tikkun olam, the repair of the world.
I encourage you, in the coming weeks and months, to try bringing one new Jewish ritual into your lives. Was it challenging or uncomfortable? Did it have a positive impact on you and your family? See how it feels, and then I’d love to sit and talk with you about it.

B’Shira, in song,

Cantor Micah Morgovsky

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September, 2017

Dear Temple Sinai Family,

Almost two years ago this fall, Temple Sinai suffered the loss of our beloved friend and music director, Kathy Storfer. We all continue to miss her and mourn her passing. I, for one, think of her whenever I open my mouth to sing and I know I am not alone. These last couple of years, we’ve been so blessed to have had Beth Styles at the helm, leading Kolot Sinai and continuing to bring us wonderful musical worship opportunities. And this year, we turn the page on the next chapter for Kolot Sinai as we welcome a new director, Zachary Kampler. Members of Kolot Sinai met in June to “audition” Zachary, and everyone is thrilled to have him on board.

     Zachary is a professor at Westchester Community College, the Music Director of the Sound Beach Community Band and the conductor for Saint Catherine’s Players. He has served as Music Director for Staples Players, Bedford Acting Group, Weston High School Company, Binghamton University Theater Department, Musicals at Ricther, and the Boys & Girls Club Theater Program. Additionally, he has conducted The Connecticut Little Symphony, Nickel City Opera, and Crystal Opera, in addition to holding the position of Assistant Conductor with the Stamford Young Artists Philharmonic, Tri-Cities Opera, and Sarasota Opera. Zachary’s musical, K.C.@Bat, premiered at the historic Cherry Lane Theatre and is produced around the country. He is a graduate of the Juilliard Pre-College Program, he holds a B.A. in Music from New York University and earned an M.M. in Orchestral Conducting with a concentration in Opera, from SUNY Binghamton.

     When I wrote to Zachary and asked him to share more with us about his musical background, he wrote:

“I started piano lessons at the age of five and was the type of kid who didn’t need to be reminded to practice. I loved listening to music and playing along on the piano and drums. I saw my first Broadway show, Fiddler on the Roof, when I was seven and I’ve been hooked ever since. I was immediately interested in the “how” of everything: How do you make musical moments powerful? How do you create a mood or a feeling through music? How do you bring together a large group of people to accomplish a singular purpose? All these questions led me to be keenly observant throughout my musical education, during which I ‘collected’ different tactics from my teachers and colleagues. This accumulation, combined with some special opportunities at my high school, led to my becoming a conductor. As a director, I try to lead with the expression, ‘Not again; better,’ so that the rehearsal and performance process is always moving forward. I also enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to bring out the best in each performer and each musical group. I don’t believe in talent – a sort of magical gift that one either possesses or lacks – I believe in hard work and finding the right path for each performer. This philosophy most often leads to successful, gratifying performances.”

     Please join me in welcoming Zachary to our temple family and we’ll look forward to singing with him and Kolot Sinai this upcoming High Holy Day season. If you’d like more information about singing with Kolot Sinai, please email me at cantormicah@templesinaistamford.org. Wishing you all a Shana Tova u’m’tukah – a sweet and happy New Year.

B’Shira, in song,

Cantor Micah Morgovsky

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July-August, 2017

Dear Temple Sinai Family,

As a child, I remember counting down the days to the end of school and the beginning of summer vacation. My parents were both teachers, so the rhythms of life changed dramatically for all of us during those summer months. When I was little, we packed up the car and took long road trips, setting out to explore different places all over the country. As I got older, I went to day camp and then sleepaway camp. And, when I was in high school, I immersed myself in summer stock community theater productions. But whatever the summer activity, what was so remarkable about every summer was how different those couple of months felt from the rest of the year.
     Nevertheless, by the end of the summer, I always became antsy and bored. I began to miss the structure of the academic schedule and all of the activities that came with school and studies. And, as strange as it sounds, I know I am not alone. By the end of the summer, back-to-school, with its new clothes, new backpacks and school supplies, new teachers, new classes and new friends, became exciting again. School was something to look forward to because it was new and different.
     According to Kohelet, also known as Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, and so on and so forth.
     I often think about these verses — at moments of distinction and contrast, in joyful and difficult times, in instances of struggle and celebration. On Friday evenings, we light the candles and say the Kiddush to help us let go of the stresses from week that has passed and to welcome the peace of Shabbat. And, on Saturday night, we sing the blessings of Havdalah, of separation, as we distinguish between the holiness of Shabbat and the not-yet-holiness of the week to come.
     Similarly, many of us who have journeyed to Israel have come home with rings that read gam zeh ya’avor, this too shall pass, meant to remind us that both good times and bad times are fleeting and destined to change. In this awareness, we are given the opportunity to cherish the blessings and to summon the strength to endure the hardships.
     As we enter into these summer months, may we enjoy these days for the disruption they bring to the routine. May these weeks offer opportunities to pause and reflect on the many blessings in our lives, as well as confront, head on, those things we wish could be different. May we savor the contrasts and the pendulum swings of life and revel in the balance of our days.

B’Shira, in song,

Cantor Micah Morgovsky

 

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The Educator's Messages

Educator's Messages

What is the “whole megillah?” Well, megillah is a Hebrew word meaning scroll, but if you check out the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a megillah is a long-involved story or account. Clearly, the phrase refers to the reading of the Scroll of Esther on Purim. If you have ever sat through the entire reading in Hebrew, you can appreciate why the graggers are truly necessary; they keep us alert and awake. Without them, we might just drift off to sleep, because the whole megillah is very long.

     As I continued to research the phrase, I came across a website called “World Wide Words.” According to WWW, “the English translation of the phrase started to be heard and written about the middle of the 1950’s.” By whom? American television performers, night-club hosts and others in the entertainment business (um…Jews). So, I started to think about what other words and phrases we have introduced into the English mainstream.

     There are plenty in Yiddish that you will often hear uttered by Jews and non-Jews alike: oy vey, schmutz, schmooze, chutzpah, maven, and schlep. But Yiddish is not Hebrew. What about words with Hebrew origin?

     According to writer James Harbeck, a lot of English was influenced by Hebrew due to the Bible. “Early translators took many words straight from the Hebrew because European languages didn’t have a good equivalent.” I’m thinking that’s the same reason we see so much Yiddish in our everyday communications. There’s just no other way to say “oy vey” and have it come across the same. Harbeck goes on to list several words that illustrate his point. Words like amen, hallelujah, cherub and sabbatical have obvious Hebrew connections; however, other words on Harbeck’s list, like macadamia (combo of Gaelic & Hebrew), cider (started as shekar in Hebrew, and went through a Greek, Latin and French transition to its current state) and jacket (French from the name Jacques that came from Ya’acov, in the Bible) take quite a few turns to get to their Hebrew roots.

     Be it Yiddish or Hebrew, we seem to have a way of expressing ourselves that speaks (no pun intended) to the masses. So this year, when we read the whole megillah on Purim, we can be grateful to Queen Esther for saving the Jewish people and for her indirect contribution to the English language.

L’shalom,

     Morah Amy

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The Educator's Messages

January-February, 2018

Statistics support that there are two things that keep students connected to their Judaism: belonging to a Jewish youth group and attending Jewish camp. Students who participate in Jewish youth groups and/or Jewish summer camps often build lifelong friendships and grow to become adult leaders in their Jewish communities. 

     The Temple Sinai Camp Scholarship Program and SoSTY are ways for your family to take advantage of these opportunities.

      The Temple Sinai Camp Scholarship Program was created to assist families who could not afford to send their children to a sleep-away camp or without financial assistance. The scholarship funds are designed for children who attend Union for Reform Judaism camps: Eisner and Crane Lake Camps, Six Points Sports Camp, Kutz Camp, the Six Points Science Academy Camp in North Carolina, or the Six Points Sci-Tech Academy in Boston. Many children of Temple Sinai families already attend these camps. 

     If you would like more information about Eisner and Crane Lake Camps, or any of the others, please check out their website at: urjcamps.org/camps, or you can join us on Sunday, January 7, when a representative from Eisner and Crane Lake Camps will be here to play a few games with the kids and answer your questions in person.

     Temple Sinai camp scholarships are open to children of Temple Sinai members in good standing. To qualify, your child must be entering 2nd grade at least and be no older than entering 10th grade in September, 2018. There is also limited scholarship money for teens who participate in a NFTY program in Israel. Please contact the temple office for scholarship forms.

     SoSTY is Temple Sinai’s senior youth group open to students in grades 8-12 for Temple Sinai teens as well as their friends (non-members). Events include but are not limited to, shul-ins, Lounge Nights and the Chanukah Chooplah. This year Temple Sinai will be hosting NFTY’s Winter Kallah. For a glimpse of what goes on, stop by during the weekend of January 26-28, or better yet consider hosting a couple of visiting teens. For more information on SoSTY or the NFTY Kallah, please contact our Youth Director, Erica Quamily, at ericasantiago28@gmail.com.

     When you support your child’s decision to attend a youth group function or summer camp, you never know what kind of amazing things you are setting in motion!

L’shalom,

     Morah Amy

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December, 2017

This month we will celebrate the Festival of Lights by eating foods fried in oil and burning candles in a Chanukiah for 8 days, and it got me to thinking. “What is it about candles and light that make it a staple of Jewish observance?” We light candles on Shabbat, for Havdalah, on every major Jewish holiday (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot), on each night of Chanukah and for the yahrzeits (the anniversary of the death of a loved one). And, of course, we have the Ner Tamid: the eternal light, found in most synagogues throughout the world, that remains lit all the time.

     I looked up the word light in the dictionary. While I never really thought about it before, I guess I always knew the versatility of the word. It can be used as an adjective, a noun or a verb. The word even has multiple meanings within each category. As an adjective, there is illuminated, blond or fair, not heavy, small in amount, simple or easy, funny or cheery. As a noun, it is the luminescence from the sun or another source, it can mean point of view, or understanding, and as a verb it can mean to illuminate, or literally start on fire.

     In Judaism, candles and light also represent a variety of meanings. Light represents the beginning of creation. Originally there was only darkness and our first gift from God was the gift of light and He proclaimed that it was good, making light a symbol of all that is good, positive and beautiful. An article in the Jerusalem Post states that, “Light as a positive symbol is so prevalent in Biblical Hebrew that redemption, truth, justice, peace and even life itself ‘shine,’ and their revelation is expressed in terms of the revelation of light.”

     The light of the seven branch Menorah and the Ner Tamid are symbols of the holiness of the space they occupy. Originally, the light of the Shabbat candles was for practical purposes, used to eat the Shabbat meal by lighting the darkness of the evening. Today, the Shabbat candles have come to be a symbol of Shabbat itself.
Chanukah candles are considered “holy,” and are not to be used as a light source, but rather to observe. The lit candles in the Chanukiah represent a miracle and the triumph of light over darkness.

     The braided Havdalah candle itself is said to represent the diversity of the Jewish people, banded together displaying strength. We celebrate this unity by lighting the Havdalah candle at the end of every Shabbat. The act of extinguishing the Havdalah candle also makes a distinction between the relaxation of Shabbat and the new week.
Probably my favorite description of the symbolism of light in Judaism is the reason behind lighting a yahrzeit candle. The candle’s flame is thought to symbolically represent the human soul. Like a human soul, flames must breath, change, grow, strive against the darkness, and, ultimately, fade away. The flickering of candlelight helps to remind us of the fragility of our life and the lives of our loved ones.

     So, while the meaning behind the use of light and candles in Jewish observance seems to be dependent on the situation, there is no denying that they are both important to us.

     When you light the Chanukiah this December, what will it mean for you?

     Wishing all our Temple Sinai families a healthy, safe and bright New Year!

L’shalom,

     Morah Amy

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November, 2017

This month, parsha Vayera will be read in synagogues around the world. It talks about Abraham’s generosity and hospitality when he sees three strangers approaching his tent, Abraham rushes out to greet them, offers to wash their feet, and gives them food and a shady place to sit. This scene is one of several in the Torah that illustrate the hospitality of the Jewish people. As a matter of fact, showing hospitality to guests is considered a mitzvah. In the Passover Haggadah, we read “whosoever is in need let them come and eat” and we open the doors to our homes.

     The legendary importance of hospitality in the Jewish communities was demonstrated when Roman Emperor Julian ordered the building of hostels for transients, using the example of the Jews “in whose midst no stranger goes uncared for.”

     As I read the commentary on Vayera and Jewish hospitality, I started to think of all the times I brought friends home from college who had no place to go on the holidays. While there was always a tableful of people on Passover, we also had quite a few guests on Thanksgiving. Upon further research, I found that there are not only guidelines to being a host, but also how to be a guest. As many of us will fall into one of the two categories this Thanksgiving, I thought I would share my findings.

     As a host, you are expected to be cheerful and to make your guests feel at home. One midrash teaches that “it is better to offer a guest but a little in a gracious tone than large portions proffered grudgingly.” It is appropriate for the host to serve the guest, but not be so attentive that the visitor may refrain from eating as much as they would like. In some homes, it was the custom to place all the dishes on the table at once, so that the guest could choose to eat whatever they wished, instead of being compelled to eat something they did not desire. Good hosts anticipate the needs of guests, removing any discomfort they may feel in asking for something. Finally, when your guest leaves, it is considered a mitzvah to escort your guest to the airport, bus, train or from your homes entrance, showing that beyond caring for them in your home, you want them to get to their next destination safely.

     As a guest, you should avoid causing the host extra work and you should comply with your host’s requests. A guest should not bring along another, uninvited guest. Guests should leave some of the food on their plate, to show that they have had more than enough. However, if the host asks that the portion be finished, it is not necessary to leave any. The Rabbis strongly denounce the habitual guest, one who takes every opportunity to share in meals at the house of another. One article I read quoted Midrash Tehillim, “On the day a guest arrives, a calf is slaughtered in his honor; the next day, a sheep, the third day, a fowl, and on the fourth day, he is served just beans.” The implication is that after three days a guest should be on their way!

     Whether you are a host or a guest, I wish you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving.

L’shalom,

Morah Amy

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September, 2017

Welcome back from summer vacation! I had a great summer, but now I am very excited to get the school year started. We have so many new things, and so I’m really looking forward to the opening day of the 2017-18 school year and the Welcome Back Smokin’ BBQ on September 10!

     All the communications that have gone out over the past several months have talked about the new educational initiatives that have been put in place: 3rd Grade Hebrew, 7th Grade tutoring and split sessions. I may have even mentioned Torah Play; which is something we will be adding to the curriculum of our younger students. Now I want to introduce “Lasagnas with Love,” a schoolwide, year-long social action project.

     One Sunday a month, a different religious school grade will be responsible for preparing lasagnas to be delivered to Schoke Jewish Family Service which they will then distribute to the community. Every student in the monthly assigned class will bring in one container of ricotta cheese and one package of shredded mozzarella. (If they want to bring more, it is always welcome.) Temple Sinai will provide the rest. Each lasagna will be delivered with a “Made with Love by the Students of Temple Sinai” label, along with notes from the students who prepared them.

     My goal is 72 lasagnas for the year and I will be tracking our progress each month on the bulletin board across from the courtyard.

     With a little effort from each of our students, we can make a difference by helping to feed our neighbors in need. Please take note of your child(ren)s assigned date and remember to send in the supplies requested. Together we can spread lots of lasagna love!

     As the attendant at the gas station always says to me. “Create a beautiful day,” and I’ll see you all on September 10!

L’shalom,

     Amy Ritell

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July-August, 2017

In the next few days we will be celebrating the Fourth of July, America’s Independence Day, and it started me thinking about a Jewish Independence Day. Although we celebrate Israel’s independence day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, I wondered what would be considered the a Jewish equivalent.
     Dictionary.com defines the word independence as freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others. With this definition in mind, holidays like Passover and Chanukah came to my attention. Freedom from slavery and freedom to worship certainly fall under the definition given and I think they could be considered Jewish Independence Days. Maybe all our holidays reflect our independence. After all, we are free in our desire to learn about and celebrate our Jewish holidays. We have synagogues and Hebrew schools available to us so that we can exercise these rights.
     Many Jews in other parts of the world do not have the same opportunities. Some countries have Jewish populations that are so small they cannot sustain a synagogue, a Hebrew school or a youth group. A Rabbi may visit them only once a month and on the High Holy Days. Last year, I met two girls who were members of BBYO (I can’t remember if they were from Croatia or Serbia) and they lived 4 hours away from the closest chapter so they would Skype with the group weekly and join them once a year for a weekend. That’s dedication and I started to think of all the things we take for granted, like having a Temple Sinai, a religious school, a JCC, etc.
     So, on this July Fourth, I will celebrate my American Independence, my Jewish Independence and the many opportunities available to me and my family to exercise the rights my freedom affords me and I hope you will do the same.
     Enjoy the rest of the summer!

L’shalom,

Amy Ritell

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The Week Ahead

 

Upcoming this week in June
Sun 24
10:00a
 
Mussar
Mon 25
6:45p
 
Mah Jongg & Canasta
Wed 27
12:30p
 
Canasta
Fri 29
12:00p
 
Beginners' Torah Study
Have you always wanted to learn about Torah but don’t have the time? Or maybe you think it might be too difficult? Every Friday at noon a beginners’ Torah study group meets to have basic discussions about the Torah, its laws, its stories, and the ancient people. Bring your lunch, make some new friends, and learn a little Torah! Please contact the temple office for the location of the group.
Sat 30
9:00a
 
Rabbi Eugene B. Borowitz Memorial Bible Study

 

 

 

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Sun, June 24 2018 11 Tammuz 5778