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Food Drives, Turkey Deliveries, and Cooking: TBE Members Really Step Up in November

11/17/2021 08:53:08 AM


TBE members generously donated almost $17,000 during the High Holy Day Food Drive. When asked to help address food insecurity, we answered the call to reach out to those in need. We are proud that our $13,000 contribution to Second Harvest qualifies us as a bronze-level sponsor in their Share Your Holiday Campaign with NBC15, whose food distribution throughout our region makes a real difference to so many individuals and families. The Share Your Holiday Campaign provides around four months of food assistance through Second Harvest and its programs and partners.

We also used your High Holy Day Food Drive donations to distribute to other food-related organizations and partners in our social justice work. This year we plan to donate $500 to each of these partner organizations: Mount Zion Baptist Church and Catholic Multicultural Center for their food pantries, Porchlight Emergency Food Shelter for food items not covered by the program, Centro Hispano and The Road Home for grocery cards, and Thea’s Table/Food for Thought for weekend food for families of school children without housing.

The Thanksgiving food drive, when we work with the Religious School families to encourage each grade to bring in food for the Goodman Community Center holiday meal, is currently underway. Sunday morning, November 21, is the last day to bring donations to any of our three collection sites or donate online. November is also our month to support the Thoreau Elementary School Food Program, delivering boxes of food directly to families at their homes. We have the privilege of delivering turkeys (and all the fixings) on November 19. This month we are also cooking a week of dinners for Healing House and two meals for the Catholic Multicultural Center.

Finally, November calls for a shout-out to Sisterhood for another successful Food-A-Rama. This event brings our community members together in service, reinforces connections to our heritage, and raises money for numerous good causes and Temple programs.

Thank you to our caring community, to all who cooked and all who gave.

Volunteer Opportunities

11/16/2021 10:28:15 AM


Looking to volunteer? Need a b’nai mitzvah project? Here are ways to help people in our community.

Helping Refugees from Afghanistan

There are many volunteer opportunities coming up to help refugees. Open Doors for refugees lists a number of opportunities in its October newsletter, including furniture warehouse co-manager, donation pickup and move-in volunteer co-organizer, ESL co-leader, winter clothing drive organizer, and bike outfitters.

If you would like to help those currently staying at Ft. McCoy, Jewish Social Services of Madison recommends Team Rubicon, a veteran-run emergency-response nonprofit, which has Amazon wish lists set up for several of the processing centers, including Ft. McCoy. This helps them provide exactly what is needed for Afghan guests while they are there. For those arriving in Madison, your cash donations or gift cards to Woodman’s, TJ Maxx/Marshalls, or Burlington Coat Factory would help out a lot. Please donate cash or gift cards; JSS is not seeking donations of items. Donate online here or send/deliver gift cards to JSS at 6434 Enterprise Lane, Madison, Wisconsin 53719.

Porchlight Program Needs Travel-Sized Personal Supplies

The Porchlight Men’s Shelter program is in desperate need of travel-size bars of soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and lotion. These items are given out nightly to the men at the emergency shelter. Because no one traveled last year, the supply is almost out. Items can be mailed or delivered to 306 N. Brooks Street, Madison, WI 53715 or dropped off directly at the shelter at 200 First Street after 4:00 pm.

Serving Meals at the Catholic Multicultural Center

One of TBE’s many initiatives to feed those in need is done in partnership with the Catholic Multicultural Center. The CMC provides free meals every day to approximately 80 south side community members and people experiencing homelessness. Since 2019 TBE members have been assisting in this effort by providing volunteer services before the COVID-19 pandemic and by cooking thousands of meals during the pandemic. At least 32 Temple cooks have stepped forward and cooked more than 3,300 meals for hungry neighbors. We are so grateful for all that they have done!

Until the CMC is able to return to in-person service, TBE will continue to cook meals every other Wednesday for the CMC to hand out. Cooks prepare a hot dish for 20, using a provided recipe, and a TBE member collects the dishes and delivers them to the CMC. If you would like to participate in this effort, please join us by using this sign-up linkPlease contact Sue Levy at for the recipes or if you have questions.

Donating Sleeping Bags, Tents, and Clothes for Those without Housing

Nurse Frances Wiedenhoeft served many years in the U.S. military and now works to support unhoused people in Madison, especially veterans. Temple Beth El received the following letter: “If you can reach into your hearts and your closets, you may be able to retrieve gently used sleeping bags, tents, warm flannel or wool shirts, sweaters, fleeces, and heavy pants. Warm men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing are all needed, especially in the larger sizes.

“If it would be possible for you to collect these items, we will come and pick them up. We take everything we collect to drop off sites at both the Madison VA for homeless veterans, and to The Beacon, Madison’s homeless day center. I know at this time of year people are inundated with appeals for monetary donations and I hope that this will be a way for people to contribute which is within their reach. Thank you in advance for considering my request and for all that you do for your spiritual community. You can reach me by calling or texting at 608-576-7416, or by email at”

Helping Afghan Refugees as They Begin to Arrive in Madison

11/15/2021 03:48:33 PM


In mid-August, over the span of several days, thousands of refugees landed at Fort McCoy and hundreds of people reached out to help. With input from members of the local Afghan American community (former refugees themselves), Jewish Social Services of Madison (JSS) and Open Doors for Refugees will work to resettle and support them as they arrive in Madison. Open Doors is also planning a winter clothing drive to support the people being held at Fort McCoy, and working with the legal team at the Catholic Multicultural Center to help people file for “humanitarian parole” visas for family members to come here.

With the help of many TBE volunteers, JSS and Open Doors recently set up their 56th apartment, one of the largest to date, for an Afghan family of six (see pictures here).

Becca Schwartz, JSS resettlement director, notes that in addition to the 50 refugees that JSS had agreed to resettle in the coming year, they will be resettling 75 more Afghan evacuees. They currently have to turn away large Afghan families (7–9 members) for resettlement, so if you or someone you know has a large property at an affordable rate, please let her know.

There are many volunteer opportunities coming up for helping refugees. Open Doors lists a number of opportunities in its October newsletter, including furniture warehouse co-manager, donation pickup and move-in volunteer co-organizer, ESL co-leader, winter clothing drive organizer, and bike outfitters.

If you would like to help those currently staying at Ft. McCoy, Team Rubicon, a veteran-run emergency-response nonprofit, has Amazon wish lists set up for several of the processing centers, including Ft. McCoy. This helps them provide exactly what is needed for Afghan guests while they are there.

Supporting the Right to Vote through Legislation and Outreach

11/15/2021 03:40:48 PM


The Civic Engagement Action Team is working with the Wisconsin League of Women Voters to contact voters who have been purged from the voter rolls for failure to vote in the last four years. Based on our success last year with writing voting reminder postcards, we’re planning another postcard effort to reach out to these voters, telling them to check their registration status and re-register to vote before the next election.

On Sunday, December 19 at 2:00 pm, we will hold a postcard-writing party. Each person attending will address and sign 30 postcards to de-activated Wisconsin voters. We’ll also use the time to bring people up to date on what lies ahead for civic engagement activities in 2022.

The postcard party will be held in the Swarsensky Social Hall, distanced, in accordance with TBE's in-person guidelines. You also have the option to attend the meeting by Zoom or to address postcards at home on your own schedule. You can sign up here.

A donation of $18 is requested for each participant, but of course you are welcome to participate with or without a donation. Postcards, address labels, and stamps will be provided. If you helped us with postcards last time, you will find that these will go much quicker since we will be using pre-preprinted labels and text. If you have time to do 60, please do!

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Religious Action Center is urging its member congregations to support the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The URJ views voting rights as a nonpartisan issue crucial to advancing racial justice, and both our racial justice and civic engagement action teams are actively working on it. During the week of November 8–11, 30 TBE members made three key phone calls to Senator Baldwin, Senator Johnson, and President Biden, urging their support for the bills and considering filibuster reform if necessary. TBE volunteers also took the lead in organizing the other Reform congregations in Wisconsin to join in making these calls.

Join Us for a Discussion of "Separated: Inside an American Tragedy"

11/15/2021 03:35:39 PM


Join the Dane Sanctuary Coalition’s “Big Read” of the book Separated: Inside an American Tragedy, by Jacob Soboroff. You can choose between two discussion sessions, either Monday, December 6, 7:00–8:30 pm, or Sunday, December 12, 1:00–2:30 pm, both by Zoom. You can register for the session of your choice here. A study guide for the book will be forwarded to anyone who registers. Copies of the book are available at A Room of One’s Own and Mystery to Me bookstores, the public library, and online booksellers. Please register by December 1 to get the Zoom link and study guide.

In June 2018, Americans became aware that the government was deliberately separating migrant parents and children at U.S. border facilities. Jacob Soboroff was among the first journalists to expose this reality after seeing firsthand the living conditions of the children in custody. He then spent two years reporting the many strands of this complex narrative, using inside government sources, laying out the human toll and making it clear what is at stake as America struggles to reset its immigration policies.

A Jewish Call to Climate Action: Dayenu Circle Forming in Madison

11/15/2021 03:31:51 PM


Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action is a new national organization that brings a Jewish voice to this urgent public issue. Local circles are connected to a national network so that our actions can be more powerful together. Dayenu’s approach is to hold public leaders accountable through strategic public action of the scale that science and justice demand.

Representatives from Jewish Congregations for Social Justice (JCSJ) spoke at length with the leaders of Milwaukee’s Dayenu Circle and with the outreach coordinator of Dayenu National, and decided to partner with Dayenu as a Jewish focus for climate action in Madison. JCSJ is a collaboration of the social action committees of the three Madison synagogues: Temple Beth El, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, and Beth Israel Center.

Two groups are currently being formed to begin with: a smaller steering committee that will meet monthly and direct strategic activities for the whole community, in collaboration with Dayenu National, and an advisory panel of local individuals with particular expertise for consultation. The goal is to have representation from all three congregations and a diverse, multigenerational steering committee. If you would like to help or have suggestions for individuals who would be a good fit for either of these groups, please contact Sherie Sondel.

TBE’s Environment and Climate Change Action Team also welcomes new members. To join the team, contact Marta Karlov, chair, or Aleeza A. Hoffert.

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch: Words to Guide Us on Our Relationship with the Environment

11/15/2021 02:53:03 PM


by Marta Karlov

“Do not destroy My world, for if you do, there will be nobody after you to make it right again” (Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13). These are powerful words, which Rabbi Biatch introduced me to when we met to talk about his perspective on our relationship with the environment.

Even though these are ominous words, I find that our scripture provides us with words that guide us to act, to heal, to drive change. Rabbi Biatch is our community’s connection to those words. During Erev Rosh Hashanah he did just that—he reminded us about Rabbi Shimon, who said, “Three things are equally important: earth, humanity, and rain.” And exhorted us to change our eating habits to a plant-rich diet to reduce the damage caused by animal products to help save all three.

Rabbi Biatch has been thinking about how we treat the Earth since he was young. He remembers his mother, of blessed memory, saying, “I am really sad they are sending people to the moon, because all those rockets must be doing some damage to the atmosphere.” She was especially sensitive to anything happening in the environment and imparted this feeling on her children. It was also not hard to miss the impact of heavy smog in Los Angeles growing up. And at the same time there was a growing awareness of the dangers of nuclear power. Rabbi Biatch remembers how Peter, Paul and Mary’s song “Power” was a wake-up call for many.

I asked him what in scripture particularly drives him to act to help the environment, and he responded that he found inspiration in Genesis 2:15, which is traditionally translated as “our job is to take care of the garden, to till and tend it.” But the rabbi likes to interpret it as to “serve and preserve,” which is short, meaningful, and to the point.

When discussing why humankind has been willing to cause damage to their own home, he helped me put things in perspective. “It’s too immense of a problem; it’s like the story of the people in a boat in the middle of the ocean—while one is drilling a hole, others ask why, and he says, ‘The hole is only under me.’ Most people don’t see their impact and cumulative effect and how it will affect the world. They don’t believe it; they don’t think it’s possible.”

He added that while the TV news shows the terrible damage from tornadoes, fires, and floods, we tend to become disconnected. We don’t get the interdependency of this world.

In our congregation we are attempting to act locally, to help the community make stronger connections between our everyday surroundings and environmental impacts. I asked Rabbi Biatch what advice he had for us, and he was clear in saying, “Engage the community. Find positive ways to make change, focus on changing one person at a time. Look at food, how do we use resources at an Oneg Shabbat, do we use compostable materials, or reusable stuff? People have an impact even if they don’t know it. Hone in on positive ways we can make a change in our community. Find decision makers and see if they can be convinced to try something different. Start small to educate people in a way that engages them, not lecturing at people; it’s too overwhelming.”

He also called for us to remember how environmental justice intersects with social justice and with our acknowledgment of ownership of the land we inhabit. “Connect with the fact that Native Americans that came before us in Madison treated the land differently than we do.” (Here Rabbi Biatch showed me a YouTube video of the “Crying Indian” ad to make his point; check it out.) “If we don’t have a planet that’s habitable, there will be nothing.”

Judaism is about the here and now, about achieving grace through our actions. According to Rabbi Biatch, standing still in the face of the destruction of our home is not an option. “It is our responsibility to preserve, protect, and nourish our planet. We have the power to take action to create a healthy and just future for ourselves and generations to come.” These are strong words that tie us to our tradition.

Native American Life Along the Shores of Lake Wingra

11/15/2021 02:10:33 PM


by Marcia Vandercook

On a warm, sunny Sunday morning in October, 31 Temple Beth El members took a stroll along the shores of Lake Wingra to learn how the land near Temple was used by the Ho-Chunk people in earlier times. The group included Rabbi Bonnie Margulis’s 8th grade class of students preparing to be next year’s madrichim (teaching assistants).

The tour was guided by Dr. Amy Rosebrough, assistant state archaeologist at the Wisconsin Historical Society. As we walked from Vilas Zoo to Temple along Edgewood Drive, Dr. Rosebrough interpreted features in the landscape and helped us visualize how the Ho-Chunk people lived there. Wisconsin was the center of a prehistoric mound-building culture that became the Ho-Chunk people. Wisconsin has the largest number of mounds in the country, a tangible reminder of the vibrant culture that preceded the arrival of European settlers.

Prior to contact, the Ho-Chunk people lived in groups of 50 to 150. Their dwellings were framed bent-pole-frame houses located over depressions, so that they could be partly below ground for warmth. There would be an extended entry area with storage pits and drying racks outside. Tents were set up in pairs, but the pairs were dispersed across a wide area. People were very mobile, coming to the lakes to fish and garden, and going to the uplands to hunt and harvest nuts in the fall. Dietary fat was essential for surviving the winter, and after hunting deer, people would render the fat in the bone marrow.

From our first stop at Vilas Beach, Dr. Rosebrough pointed out how the landscape had been altered over the years. To the east, there used to be a 70-foot high ridge running along Park St. It was quarried for gravel from 1900 to 1915 to meet the road-building demands of the growing city. Many archaeological sites and burial grounds were destroyed as the city grew.

Dr. Rosebrough cited early archaeologist Charles E. Brown as an early non-Native advocate for protecting the mounds, who realized that the forces of development were lined up against him. Instead of directly approaching the city fathers, he reached out to the city mothers, promoting the creation of city parks in places where there were sites of archaeological significance. Through this less-threatening approach, he was able to preserve a number of important sites.

Our second stop was near the warming hut on the Lake Wingra lagoon. Dr. Rosebrough described the area as a “ghost village,” a place where historically Ho-Chunk families camped, farmed, and harvested ducks, turtles, and deer. “Wingra” is a Ho-Chunk term meaning “place where the turtle rises” and also “duck.” Although the disruption caused by white explorers and settlers began many years earlier, Ho-Chunk families kept returning to the area as late as 1910 in an attempt to maintain their traditional lifestyles.

Dr. Rosebrough told us about the arrival of French and British explorers and colonists and the way that Indian tribes were enlisted as proxies for the European powers, leading to war and disease. At one point, Ho-Chunk oral history says that only 50 adult men were left, a near genocide. Then came the tragedy of Indian removal, when loss of the land through shady treaties was followed by forcible relocation. After the Civil War, the Ho-Chunk people were removed at gunpoint and shipped to camps in Iowa and later in Nebraska. While some Natives stayed in Nebraska, others walked back to Wisconsin multiple times. Interestingly, there was a loophole in the removal laws that allowed land owners to remain. Some Ho-Chunk were able to buy multiple 40-acre parcels near Black River, which is the center of the Ho-Chunk Nation today.

Our group walked down Edgewood Drive to the Mazzuchelli Center, where Dr. Rosebrough pointed out an intact mound site created between 750 and 1200 CE. At the time this mound was built, corn was being introduced as a crop from tribes to the south, and the bow and arrow was introduced for game. The population started to boom, but people also died from cavities caused by the high sugar in corn, and mounds were used as burial sites. Sometimes people would be buried in a reclining position, other times in a fetal position. When people died in winter, their bodies were scaffolded up into trees to stay safe from animals, and buried the following year.

Dr. Rosebrough said that it is common for humans to reuse burial sites. Not only did various Indian tribes use each other’s mounds to bury more remains, but white colonists also created cemeteries around mounds, for instance at Forest Hill Cemetery. However, many mounds also go unrecognized or are buried under vegetation, and then are plowed under when a road or building is built. Mounds today are protected by both state and federal law, giving the tribes greater ability to control archaeological finds. The Wisconsin Archeological Society is trying to improve the signage and protect the known mounds. Ms. Rosebrough quoted Deuteronomy 19:14, which says: “Do not remove your neighbor’s landmark established in times of old.”

Unlike Monona and Mendota, which are part of the Yahara drainage, Lake Wingra is spring-fed. One of its springs is considered sacred by the Ho-Chunk people, with a white clay bottom that serves as a path to the world below. When someone died, there would often be several days of speeches, games, gifts, and feasts, allowing people to feel happy and peaceful so the spirit of the dead person could move on. Spiritual leaders would talk to the dead and guide them on their journey to the underworld.

As we continued on to the Edgewood College campus, we came to a large bird mound in front of the Stream Theater. Some mounds hold many remains, while others hold only one or two high-status people (so identified because they had fewer broken bones and better nutrition than average). The Edgewood bird mound is likely the burial place of an important member of a bird clan.

As we walked back toward Temple Beth El, we learned that Monroe St. near Knickerbocker is another ghost site of campsites, built along trade routes that extended across the continent. There is another ring of mounds near the apartments to the east of Temple Beth El. Ms. Rosebrough passed around a spear point that was 12,000 years old, saying that it might have been used to hunt a mammoth or mastodon. She pointed out that the Ho-Chunk who live in Wisconsin today have deep roots. Their oral history includes the story of a great noise followed by the discovery of new lands in the Devil’s Lake area. Some believe this story refers to the catastrophic draining of Lake Wisconsin, in which case it might be a 14,000-year-old memory.

The 8th grade class later discussed things that they might do to follow up on what they learned. Ideas included donating money to put up signs around the mounds to let people know they are on sacred ground; raising awareness among their peers by using school assignments to make a presentation on Native history; and advocating with their schools to have more substantive activities throughout Native American Heritage Month.

The walkers agreed that the tour was highly informative and gave an important context to the land under Temple Beth El. Our thanks go to Dr. Rosebrough, and to Pam Robbins and David Friedman for making the arrangements.


Hanukkah Readings and Gift Ideas

11/11/2021 08:53:52 PM


by the TBE Social Action Committee

Hanukkah celebrates humanity’s ongoing struggles for freedom and justice. Remembering our own experiences of persecution throughout history and today, we stand in solidarity with those who share our yearning for a more just and equitable world. Each night of Hanukkah, may our conversations be richer, our advocacy be stronger, and our voices be louder as we commit to another year of justice and freedom for all.

Consider these resources to bring social justice themes into your Hanukkah celebration:

  • Jewish Center for Justice: This guide provides easy, fun, and important ways to help enhance your Hanukkah experience and spark a discussion each night.
  • Religious Action Center: Sustaining the Light: This guide is focused on four issues for discussion: the environment, economic justice, children’s issues, and religious liberty.
  • American Jewish World Service: Light One Candle for Freedom, Dignity & Justice: This is a short reading and prayer for social justice to accompany the candle blessings.
  • TBE’s Hanukkah@Home resources include readings and ways to include social justice in our holiday along with other ways to enrich your Hanukkah celebrations.

Looking for a gift that’s festive, local, and in support of a great community program? Need applesauce for your latkes? This year, try Porchlight Products! Porchlight Products is an employment training program for disabled and formerly homeless individuals who have struggled to return to or remain in a mainstream employment setting. Their quality food products are available at local stores such as Brennan’s Cellars, Capitol Centre Foods, Festival Foods, Hy-Vee, Metcalfe’s, Miller & Sons, Regent Market Co-op, and Willy Street Co-op. Or visit their retail storefront, Storefront for Success, at 1704 Thierer Road, where you can also pick up fresh baked goods from Madison Area Urban Ministry’s Just Bakery project.


The tofurkey that I make every year (and plant-rich gravy)

11/10/2021 09:16:41 AM


Leslie Coff

Tamari, Extra-firm tofu, poultry seasoning, salt, pepper, lightly toasted sesame oil
(gravy recipe separate)

Four or five packages of extra-firm tofu.
Crumble into a bowl.
Add 3-4 tablespoons of poultry seasoning (plus some salt and pepper).
Add 2 tablespoons of sesame oil (light, toasted)

Mix altogether. Line a rounded colander with cheesecloth and press tofu mix into the colander, filling it completely – and even a bit overfull. Fold cheesecloth over the top.   

Take a small plate which is a little bit smaller than the diameter of the colander opening, place on top.   Use a heavy weight (glass gallon jug filled with water or similar) and place over the plate.   Put colander onto a large plate or platter which can easily collect liquid which will drain.

Let sit, draining with heavy weight, for three to four hours.

Scoop out tofu mix in the center, leaving 1 to 1-1/2 inches border all around the colander. Fill the center with stuffing and press down to firmly pack.
(can use bread stuffing, rice stuffings, cornbread stuffing).
Add removed tofu mix onto the top, sealing the stuffing, replace the plate and the weight and press another hour.

Remove the plate and the weight. Invert a baking dish on the colander and turn over so tofurkey dome is in baking dish. Gently remove the cheese cloth. Mix ½ cup tamari and ½ cup lightly toasted sesame oil with 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning.   Brush mixture all over the top of the dome until light brown.

Cover with foil, put in oven preheated to 350 degrees and cook for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven, baste with oil/tamari mixture, cover with foil and cook an additional 30 minutes. Remove foil, baste again and cook a final 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Let sit 10 minutes and then slice with a sharp knife, so slices are tofu around the edges and filled with stuffing.

Garnish with parsley, orange slices and serve with gravy (Recipe follows).

Vegan Mushroom Pecan Gravy


  • 2 cups button mushrooms, very thinly sliced
  • 2 cups fresh shiitake mushrooms, very thinly sliced
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 2 tsp. tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 cup plant milk (unsweetened, unflavored)
  • 1 cup dashi stock or vegetarian broth 
  • 1 tbsp. Corn starch or arrowroot powder
  • 1 tbsp. Dry white wine or mirin
  • Black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup toasted pecans.

(I usually triple this recipe. One cannot have too much gravy — ever)

  1. Heat a splash or two of water in a saucepan over a medium heat. 
  2. Add all the mushrooms, sea salt and tamari and shallots —  and sauté for7 minutes. 
  3. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Whisk in the milk and stock. 
  4. Dissolve the arrowroot/corn starch in a little cold water, add to the pan and stir constantly to avoid lumps. 
  5. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until thickened, whisking often. Add more water if necessary, to reach the desired consistency. Stir in the mirin and black pepper to taste. 
  6. May be blended into a cream gravy.
  7. Add toasted pecans at the end.

Rabbi in Israel: Confronting the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

11/04/2021 02:09:46 PM


Rabbi Jonathan Biatch 

L to R, Beth Shuman, executive director of Combatants for Peace, with activists Avner and Suli, on the roof of the Holy Land Hotel in East Jerusalem.

Two men, similar in age and temperament, in a continuing struggle for their ideals. On the first afternoon of our journey to understand the current level of conflict between Israel and Palestine, we met with these two activists who have spent the better paper of the last 16 years in peace work. Avner is a former officer of the Israeli army, and he underscored the need for both Israelis and Palestinians to reduce the trauma of being both the occupier and the occupied. They discussed the great difficulty of two peoples being subject to two separate seta of laws, one civilian and the other military. And, yes, they carefully (they say) use certain verbiage to define this situation as having “elements of colonialism”.

Suli is a former Palestinian prisoner who was jailed at age 14 for a sentence of ten years, but now is one of many who can admit his crimes and can also move on to attempt to bring healing to these two peoples. As they said, the simplest things in life are different and difficult for these two peoples: the simple task of returning home from this evening’ encounter—for Avner, a simple bike ride through Jerusalem’s terrible rush hour traffic,and for Suli, his drive through a demeaning checkpoint to his home which would otherwise be a seven-minute drive—defines the difficulties of life for these two peoples.

I look forward to bringing all of this back to report to TBE and the Madison community.

Thank You from Little John's

11/01/2021 11:44:01 AM


TBE Sisterhood

In June 2021, Temple Beth El congregants counted our blessings and donated in honor of them to TBE Sisterhood’s fundraiser for Little John’s Kitchens, a local nonprofit focused on food sustainability, food access, and job skill training. Thanks to your generosity, TBE Sisterhood was able to donate $9,300 to Little John’s Kitchens. 

We recently received a heartfelt thank-you note from Little John’s:

Thank you all so much for your generous donation! We loved hearing about all the gratitude your membership has, and we are so thankful for your decision to translate that into support for our organization. The $9,300 you gathered for us will have an immeasurable impact upon our community, and allow us to keep providing feel good food for all our members—regardless of their means. We are incredibly grateful for our community members like you all. Thank you! —The Little John’s Team

After Little John’s founder Dave Heide spoke at a Sisterhood program this past spring, the Sisterhood board chose to support the organization because of its innovative approach that complements our congregation’s other food donation drives and hunger-related efforts throughout the year. TBE Sisterhood organized the fundraiser as part of a Women of Reform Judaism Midwest District initiative, “Feeding the Hungry,” designed to ease hunger in these times of great need.

Together you made a difference by feeding people in our community. Thank you once again for your generous donations! 


Adult Biblical Hebrew Class Now Forming 

10/28/2021 09:55:41 AM


Linda Reivitz

Did you know that biblical (or classical) Hebrew and modern spoken Hebrew are not the same? Biblical Hebrew was the language used by the Hebrews to communicate and to record their history, religion, philosophy, and culture. It evolved beyond recognition during the Roman period but lived on in religious contexts. Importantly, it is the language of the Torah read by congregations around the world each Shabbat.
Why take a beginning Biblical Hebrew class? You will learn to read, in Hebrew, prayers like the Sh’ma or mourner’s Kaddish from our prayer book. You will begin a journey toward becoming a b’nai mitzvah as an adult, if that is your goal. And based on past TBE adult Hebrew classes, you will simply have a good time.
Can I take the class if I had a b’nai mitzvah at age 12 or 13? What if I know a little Hebrew already? Will the class be in person or online? When will it meet, and how often? What book will be used? These are all good questions, which we will address during an online discussion about the class. Just remember: all beginning levels are welcome. To learn more or express interest, join the Zoom discussion on November 18 at 7:30 pm (register here to receive the link), contact the class instructor, Linda Reivitz (; 608-335-9192), or contact Nicole A. Jahr, TBE director of lifelong learning, at The class will begin the first week of December 2021.

Teach the Truth: Members of Temple Beth El Talk about the Nakoma Neighborhood

10/18/2021 01:46:02 PM


Racial Justice Action Team

Did you know that the Nakoma neighborhood, which is adjacent to Temple Beth El's Dudgeon-Monroe neighborhood, beginning in 1931 had clauses in their property deeds that forbade selling homes to people of "Ethiopian descent"? Many neighborhoods and communities across the country had such racist and discriminatory provisions—since invalidated by Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Watch and listen to this video, generously prepared by longtime Temple members and Nakoma residents Vic and Sue Levy, to learn more.

High Holy Day Food Drive Helps Alleviate Hunger

10/14/2021 03:38:10 PM


TBE members generously donated almost $17,000 during the High Holy Day Food Drive. When asked to help address food insecurity, we answered the call to reach out to those in need. We are proud that our contribution qualifies us as a bronze-level sponsor of Second Harvest Foodbank, whose food distribution throughout our region makes a real difference to so many individuals and families. Our Social Action Committee also uses these donations to distribute to other food-related organizations. We are a caring community that works for tikkun olam, as we seek a more just world. Thank you to all who gave.

Our Sanctuary Is Complete!

10/14/2021 03:24:28 PM


Our time together as a congregation over the High Holy Days is always a meaningful experience. This year was no exception, and it was made even more special by the completion of our remodeled sanctuary. New seating and refreshed surroundings, as well as enhanced audiovisual components and hearing-assistance technology, are improvements that benefit all of us, whether worshipping in person or from home. We are so grateful to all of our sponsors, whose generosity allowed us to create a space that is beautiful, inclusive, and welcoming. Thank you so very much!

Lead donors:

  • Joanna Berke
  • Howie and Pam Erlanger
  • Amy and Marty Fields
  • Bonnie Denmark Friedman
  • Tim and Kathy Mazur
  • Fran Weinstein
  • TBE Sisterhood
  • Goodman Foundation

Thank you to all our donors:

  • Two grateful congregants
  • Victor and Judith Levine
  • Jeff Levy
  • Debbie and Jack Spear
  • Marjorie Tobias
  • Suzanne and Mitch Wolf
  • TBE Men’s Club

Legacy Giving through the TBE Dorot Society

10/14/2021 02:43:24 PM


The Hebrew word dorot means “generations.” At Temple Beth El, we teach the next generation to embrace Jewish life, just as we were taught by those who came before us. With the goal of sustaining Temple Beth El for future generations, we are grateful for the following members of the Dorot Society who included Temple in their estate plans. For more information about the Dorot Society, please contact Stefanie Kushner at

Marv Conney Bequest

Marv and Mildred “Babe” Conney (z''l) were members of Temple Beth El for over 55 years. They joined shortly after moving their business and family here in 1964. Their children, Lisa Rosenstock and David Conney, attended TBE’s Religious School and celebrated their life-cycle events with the TBE community. The family legacy continued with the almost 30-year membership of Lisa and her husband, Rick, along with their daughters, who grew up at TBE. Temple Beth El was always central to Marv and Babe’s lives. Marv was one of the fundraising chairs for the 1994 campaign, calling on members to raise the funds necessary for the 1996 expansion of our building. Babe was Sisterhood president from 1970 to 1972. Their financial support helped sustain TBE as well. Marv taught his children that “it is extremely important to pay back your civic rent.” The Conneys have continued to give back even after their passing through Marv’s planned giving, as he named Temple Beth El as a beneficiary. We are grateful to the Conney and Rosenstock families for their generosity and for the legacy that will continue on at
Temple Beth El.

Jacob J. Sinaiko Memorial Endowment

Susan Sinaiko (z''l) passed away in 1989 at the age of 93 years. She was a member of Temple Beth El, and Rabbi Brahms officiated at her funeral. Susan loved art; she was a student in the Department of Art at the University of Wisconsin and was active in the Madison Art Association. Many of us knew her from her 35 years working in sales at Woldenberg’s department store. At the time of her death she left her estate to her remaining sister, Clara Smith, and her niece, Abigail Sand. Family was very important to Susan, as was the future of the Jewish community in Madison. In her will, she declared that the remainder of her estate, upon the death of her sister and niece, was to be evenly divided between Beth Israel Center and Temple Beth El for the establishment of endowments in memory of relatives that had passed before her. With Abigail Sand’s passing in June 2021, Temple Beth El received almost $600,000 to establish the Jacob J. Sinaiko Memorial Fund in memory of Susan’s brother.

We are so grateful for Susan’s commitment to the Madison Jewish community, leaving her remaining estate to establish endowments at two of Madison’s synagogues as a long-lasting investment in the future of Jewish life in Madison.

Membership Renewal 2022: A Partnership of Giving

10/14/2021 10:31:56 AM


Last year we introduced the Temple Community Contribution program. Our membership renewal program reminds us that we are all partners in our support of Temple Beth El. Rather than recommending a percentage of household income, the Temple Community Contribution program invites you to consider what you value the most within the four foundations that make TBE so special: community, worship, learning, and social justice.

Membership renewal materials will be sent in November. As we prepare for that process, we know that transparent information about Temple expenses helps to guide TBE members as you determine your annual contributions.

Currently, 2021 membership contributions are forecasted to come in 5% higher than 2020 membership contributions. These infographics show just a few examples of costs that will increase by 5% or more.

Overall, our expenses are projected to increase by at least 5%. If all TBE members increased their membership contributions by 10%, more than $80,000 would be added to our budget, going a long way toward sustaining Jewish life at TBE.

We recognize that an increased contribution is not possible for everyone. We hope, though, that you will take the time this November to evaluate whether you can give a little more: from your heart, based on your values, and for the good of Temple Beth El. Your support sustains us. As always, thank you for your generosity.

Volunteer Opportunities 

09/29/2021 07:26:14 AM


Looking to volunteer? Need a b’nai mitzvah project? Here are ways to help people in our community. 

Helping Refugees from Afghanistan

From Jewish Social Services of Madison: This is an immensely difficult time for Afghan citizens and those with ties to Afghanistan, and our hearts go out to all individuals and families that are suffering. At this point, we do not have any information about whether JSS will have a role in resettling Afghan SIV (special immigrant visa) recipients who are being processed at Fort McCoy. If we are called upon to resettle SIV recipients, we will do our very best to accommodate these individuals and families. 

To help prepare for a possible increase in arrivals, and to help those who have already resettled in Madison from Afghanistan and other countries, the most helpful thing you can do is provide financial donations to JSS. If you have items to donate or wish to volunteer, visit Open Doors For Refugees’ donations page and volunteer page

From Wisconsin Council of Churches: Over 8,700 Afghan refugees were housed at Fort McCoy located between Tomah and Sparta. Fort McCoy is one of eight US military bases that will temporarily house Afghan refugees who have fled Afghanistan. Following processing, refugees will be settled around the country with up to 500 people being resettled in Wisconsin. 

Immediate needs include:

From Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice: Another way to help is to donate to national organizations that work to resettle refugees. One such organization is HIAS. Click here to read about HIAS’ efforts and how you can help.

From the Wisconsin State Journal: Several TBE members recently joined a local grassroots effort to help Afghan women at Fort McCoy begin sewing garments for themselves and their families. You can read about it in this article.

Thoreau Food Program Resumes!

Thoreau Elementary School is back full time since September. Supported by Temple Beth El volunteers, the Weekend Food Program from prepandemic times will continue, with some exciting changes. Second Harvest Foodbank will assemble shelf-stable food boxes to be delivered directly to families at their homes. Each of the 60-70 families enrolled in the program will have two dry-goods boxes (each 10 to 15 lbs.) every other Friday, which is more food than we were previously able to distribute at the school. 

Temple Beth El is signed up to provide five or six volunteers for the month of November. Drivers are asked to arrive at Westminster Church, 4100 Nakoma Rd., at 8:30 am on Friday, November 5, and Friday, November 19, where you will receive the food and information on their prearranged routes. Both Vic and Sue Levy will join other TBE volunteer drivers. We expect each route to take about two hours to deliver. If families are not home, they will be able to pick their boxes up at Westminster Church the next morning.

If you can help us deliver food, please tell us what day or days you can come, using this SignUpGenius link. We are very thankful to have a group that cares about the Temple Beth El neighborhood and school to join us with this effort. We are looking forward to this “new and improved” model serving more needs than we had planned before the pandemic.

Since volunteers will represent the school and have access to family addresses, you will need to sign up for background checks, which will be performed by the Madison School District. At least two weeks prior to your volunteer date, please go to this link and follow instructions on the website. If it asks who you are volunteering with, choose “Food for Thought Initiative.” You can choose all “Level 1” volunteer opportunities but if you plan on doing other activities at the school and haven’t already had a background check, fill it out as you feel is appropriate. This is a school district requirement for all volunteers for the upcoming year. 

If you have any questions, please contact Vic Levy at 608-273-4527.

Cook Supper for the Catholic Multicultural Center

One of TBE’s many initiatives to feed those in need is done in partnership with Catholic Multicultural Center (CMC). The CMC provides free meals every day to approximately 80 south side community members and people experiencing homelessness. Since 2019 TBE members have been assisting in this effort by providing volunteer services before the COVID-19 pandemic and by cooking thousands of meals during the pandemic. During the pandemic, at least 32 Temple cooks have stepped forward and cooked more than 3,300 meals for hungry neighbors. We are so grateful for all that they have done!

Although the CMC expected to reopen in August, the COVID-19 delta variant surge has forced a delay in those plans, and they do not currently have an anticipated opening date. Until they are able to return to in-person service, TBE will continue to cook meals every other Wednesday for the CMC to hand out. Cooks prepare a hot dish for 20, using a provided recipe, and a TBE member collects the dishes and delivers them to the CMC. If you would like to participate in this effort, please join us by using this SignUpGenius link. Please contact Sue Levy ( for the recipes or if you have questions.

Healing House Meals Coming Up in November

Healing House serves individuals without homes as they recuperate from surgery, illness, or childbirth. 
TBE cooks meals for the residents and staff on a quarterly basis. Our next week will be November 14–20. Volunteers are asked to assist by cooking and dropping off meals at the Healing House, 303 Lathrop St., Madison, WI 53726. To help with this mitzvah, please sign up here. Please contact Cathy Rotter ( if you would like to be on the volunteer mailing list.

Our Tradition, Our Eating Habits, and Climate Change 

09/28/2021 01:19:39 PM


by Marta Karlov and Marcia Vandercook

On Erev Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Jonathan Biatch spoke movingly about the urgency of the climate crisis and the need to evaluate our food choices. He urged us to turn our attention to global climate change as we slowly emerge from our confinements of the recent past.
In his sermon, Rabbi Biatch leaned on the 2019 book We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, by Jonathan Safran Foer, to deliver a powerful message: Our nature may be to avoid difficult choices, but the time is now to do just that. The rabbi recounted how U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter reacted when confronted by the realities of the Holocaust in 1943 by a member of the Polish underground. Justice Frankfurter simply said, “I am unable to believe what you told me.”
But we can no longer act like Justice Frankfurter; our tradition calls on us to act. Rabbi Biatch quotes Rabbi Shimon, who said, “Three things are equally important: earth, humanity, and rain” (Midrash Genesis Rabbah 13:3), and Rabbi Israel bar Hiyah, who elaborated, “We must attend to Rabbi Shimon. These three terms are each composed of three Hebrew letters—eretz, adam, and matar—and are, therefore, equivalent to one another. They teach that without the earth there is no rain, without the rain there is no earth, and without them both there is no humanity.”

Rabbi Biatch then talked about something that most of us do every day: eat animal products. He quoted the book by Safran Foer as saying, “The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that methane-producing livestock—that is, cattle, goats, and sheep—are a leading cause of climate change.” More specifically, the animal-derived protein we eat produces the following amount of CO2 per serving:


We encourage you to read the full sermon here or watch it below. 

Taking the next step on this important issue, the Environment and Climate Change Action Team (ECCAT) would like to invite you to read We Are the Weather and join us to discuss it on Tuesday night, November 16. We will be meeting jointly with the Sisterhood Book Club, the Men’s Book Club, and ECCAT members. We will reflect on what we found helpful and on whether what the author proposes can drive change in us and/or our communities. Please sign up here

We would also like to share a very personal and very Jewish 16-minute TEDx Talk on “Storytelling and Climate Change.” Judith Black is an American Jewish professional storyteller who talks about how she has learned to communicate about climate change and the actions large and small that people can take.

Finally, the ECCAT is just getting started. We meet monthly on the fourth Wednesday of most months by Zoom, and we welcome your energy and ideas! Contact Marta Karlov, chair, to discuss how it might be best for you to get involved.

High Holy Day Food Drive and Thanksgiving Baskets Provide Needed Support

09/28/2021 12:54:01 PM


The High Holy Day Food Drive is a long-standing holiday tradition at Temple Beth El. Our efforts to alleviate hunger in our community are an important part of who we are as a congregation. They are particularly essential as the country continues to grapple with the devastating consequences of the pandemic.

Our members have once again risen to the challenge and generously donated over $15,000 this year. These donations will go a long way toward alleviating hunger and worry for food-insecure individuals. The Social Action Committee will meet later this month to decide how the money will be allocated among the various local organizations that provide food support.

If you missed the chance to contribute through the High Holy Day Food Drive, please consider joining our Religious School children and families as they gather food and donations to support the Goodman Community Center’s Thanksgiving baskets. The various classes compete to see which class can collect the greatest number of canned or boxed goods, such as cranberry sauce, mac and cheese, broth, canned veggies, and more. If you know a Religious School student, ask them what you can pick up for them next time you go to the store, and bring it to Temple during regular office hours. Collection bins will be in the coatroom. Find additional details about the collection event here

If you’d like your donation to go even further, you can make a monetary donation directly to the Goodman Community Center on their website On the third step of the donation process, please select Thanksgiving Basket Drive from the “I would like this gift to support” dropdown menu, and type in Temple Beth El for “This gift is part of the Food Drive organized by:” field (see image). 

On that same page, you can also volunteer to help sort the donations and assemble the baskets in a safe and socially distanced manner.

Our thanks to all who donated and all who will be donating! For more information, contact Sherie Sondel about the High Holy Day Food Drive, Rochelle Alpert about Thanksgiving baskets, or Aleeza Hoffert for questions about any of our social action initiatives.


How the U.S. Developed Its Policy of Separating Parents and Children at the Border

09/28/2021 12:31:02 PM


The Immigrant Rights Action Team is pleased to announce plans to participate in the Dane Sanctuary Coalition’s Big Read event this fall. We will be reading the book Separated: Inside an American Tragedy, by Jacob Soboroff, a gripping look at the U.S. child-separation policy.

In June 2018, Americans became aware that the government was deliberately separating migrant parents and children at U.S. border facilities. Jacob Soboroff was among the first journalists to expose this reality after seeing firsthand the living conditions of the children in custody. His influential series of reports ignited public scrutiny that contributed to the president reversing his own policy and earned Soboroff the Cronkite Award for Excellence in Political Broadcast Journalism and, with his colleagues, the 2019 Hillman Prize for Broadcast Journalism.

But beyond the headlines, the complete, multilayered story lay untold. How, exactly, did such a humanitarian tragedy happen on American soil? What was the human experience of those separated children and parents?

Soboroff spent two years reporting the many strands of this complex narrative, using inside government sources. He traces the dramatic odyssey of one separated family from Guatemala, where their lives were threatened by drug dealers, to seek asylum at the U.S. border, where they were separated—the son ending up in Texas, and the father thousands of miles away, in the Mojave Desert of central California. And he joins the heroes who emerged to challenge the policy and those who worked on the ground to reunite parents with children. Separated lays out the human toll and makes clear what is at stake as America struggles to reset its immigration policies.

Dates for the book group discussions will be announced soon. Now is the time to get your book and start reading. Orders of five or more books will qualify for a 50% discount, so if you’d like to order a copy through Temple Beth El, please contact Lynn Silverman about joining a group order. Copies are also available from local bookstores A Room of One’s Own and Mystery to Me and at the Madison Public Library. Dates for the discussions will be posted in the Weekly Happenings email and sent to the immigrant rights email list. Whether the discussions will be by Zoom or in person will be decided closer to the time.

Climate Action Is a Personal Journey: A Conversation with Joel Pedersen

09/28/2021 11:51:49 AM


by Marta Karlov

Interviewing Joel Pedersen was a little intimidating, in a good way. After all, he has dedicated his career to researching, publishing, and teaching chemistry and environmental science-related subjects in highly regarded institutions of higher education. In fact, he just moved to the Johns Hopkins University to join the faculty in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, after serving as professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the Departments of Soil Science and of Civil & Environmental Engineering since 2001. Among many other accomplishments, Joel runs the Pedersen research group, which conducts research on the impact of pharmaceuticals and personal care products on the food we eat, and on neurogenerative diseases. 


Joel graciously agreed to speak with me, even while in the process of packing up his house and office. And what I learned from him gave me hope—because like all of us, Joel is also continuously learning and searching for what his personal contribution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can be. So, we’re in this together—all of us in a personal journey to put what we know into practice in our daily lives. 

From a young age Joel showed an interest in the natural world, and his parents and extended family encouraged him to learn more. He grew up in the 1970s in Southern California, when environmental consciousness was increasing for all the wrong reasons. As a boy he remembers not being allowed to play outside because of pollution, and reading in the media about fires, oil spills, and endangered species. “I also went to an experimental elementary school taught by hippies,” he said, where he was further exposed to these issues. 

Joel prepared for medical school with an undergraduate degree in biology. However, a stint working in environmental microbiology with a faculty member led him to shift to a graduate degree in environmental science and engineering. During grad school he decided to pursue a career in higher education after he realized that as faculty member he could marry his interest in science with writing, which he has always enjoyed. Most students starting a science degree don’t realize how important writing is to develop their ideas and disseminate knowledge about important issues. 

Over time, his concern about climate change grew: “What I learned about in classes and in research, what impacted me personally was related to health concerns, exposure to chemicals, and impact on ecosystems; as climate change awareness has grown, it has become a larger factor influencing me personally and professionally.” 

In his personal life Joel ran an experiment that greatly influenced him. He explored eating a kosher diet, which, as he explained, “made me more attuned to what I was eating and where it came from and led me to begin thinking about animal welfare.” His kids became pescatarians, and he and his wife soon followed. 

More importantly, his adoption of new habits to benefit the environment happened over time: “First, I learned about the negative impacts of meat, then I became pescatarian … this awakening happened over time, and I was able to put it to work through work and my personal life gradually.” 

The recent release of the 2021 Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been a wake-up call for many of us. According to Joel, who had already read parts of the report when we spoke, “It brought us sobering news.” He added, “Climate change is upon us, there are going to be further changes that won’t be reversible over timescales we will experience, our children and great-grandchildren will be living in a different world. Think about them, seriously. They will live in a different earth that won’t be as comfortable.” 

When I asked what we could do as individuals to evolve our own journeys, Joel offered that his knowledge of the issue is much greater than his actions, and that he knows that this must change. Thus, he is still learning, just like most of us—together searching for a path forward. And we are not too late. 

One simple thing we discussed that all of us can do is engage in climate change as a community of Jews—through the songs we sing, the psalms we read, the books we discuss—letting the wisdom in our tradition guide the actions we choose. 

Per Joel’s suggestion, the Environment and Climate Change Action Team at TBE is holding a discussion of the book We Are the Weather, by Jonathan Safran Foer, on November 16. Among other things, the author attempts to explain the disconnect between our awareness and our actions, and the difference between those who don’t know and don’t act versus those who do know and fail to act. Which are we? As Joel’s story underscores, each of us gets to choose our personal journey, and our Jewish tradition can help us chart it. 

A Huge Success: TBE Members Host Summer Interns from Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County

09/27/2021 10:52:38 AM


by Betsy Abramson

This summer, with a generous $10,000 grant from the Jewish Federation of Madison’s Cheryl Rosen Weston Fund Community Grants, Temple Beth El’s Social Action Committee partnered with Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County (BGCDC) on a summer internship program for high school and college students who participate in BGCDC programs. The students were “matched” with Temple members at two private companies and four nonprofit organizations, where they worked approximately 20 hours each week for six weeks.

This project was designed to help address the gross racial disparities in Dane County and the entire state. Wisconsin ranks among the worst in the nation in terms of racial equality. From education to jobs and income to incarceration, these disparities are gaining increasing attention from activists and policy makers. The pandemic has exacerbated these disparities in family health, family employment, and household income. This has included increased disparities in youth education and a decrease in meaningful employment opportunities. 

Unlike the majority of youth at Temple Beth El, many of whom are white and from middle-class and upper-income families, the youth served by the BGCDC do not have the same access to summer internship and employment opportunities. Parents of low-income youth often do not have the “connections” to help their children network in the community to find summer jobs or meaningful opportunities that will expose them to a wide variety of employment situations, skills, and professionals. As a result, these youth face more barriers in completing their high school education, pursuing postsecondary education, and securing meaningful employment after graduation that will provide them with sufficient income to thrive. Unpaid internship experiences perpetuate inequality and exacerbate barriers of access and opportunities. We recognized the strong need for structured internships that pay a minimum of $15 per hour to provide low-income youth with real-world experience and opportunities to prepare them for future education and careers.

Like all of our committee’s work, this project was based on many significant Jewish values and teachings. Deuteronomy 6:7 directs us to “teach your children well,” and we believe that “your children” includes all children. Maimonides defines eight levels in giving tzedakah (charity), each one higher than the preceding one. Lower levels are those where donations are given grudgingly, less than one should, and/or only when asked. The highest forms are those that involve communal funds and are administered by responsible people. The very highest is exactly what this project did: help people before they become impoverished by offering to help them find employment or establish themselves (e.g., learn skills) so that they can become self-sufficient. See

This project also recognized that the employers would learn from the fresh new perspectives and insights of the young students. This, too, is recognized in our tradition. Rabbi Hanina said: “I have learned much from my teachers and even more from my friends, but from my students I have learned more than from all of them.” And indeed, the reports from the six employers have made clear that they personally and their organizations’ missions benefited from the interns.

Let’s hear about it from some of the participants themselves:

Intern Desia Xiong was placed at Madison Youth Arts Center (MYArts) and was offered a part-time job there at the end of the internship. She wrote:

This summer internship at MYArts was incredible! I did a variety of things during my six weeks. I sat in many director meetings, helped brainstorm for the building's grand opening this fall, did some room set up for events, created many signs and documents for the building, created instruction manuals and managed the MYArts social media handles. I also was brave enough to give a tour or two of the MYArts building! Data entry was also a large part of the second half of my internship, learning how to use two scheduling programs and putting in reservations from one to another, as MYArts is still transitioning from one program to another. 
One of the most valuable things I learned while working at MYArts is the need for diversity in the professional world. Many of my previous jobs in the past have been in student support services for minorities at educational institutions, so I have not had or been exposed to many professional occupations that were dominantly Caucasian. It was invaluable for me to learn and understand how important and valuable my perspective and voice in any conversation can be. That being said, I also run a performance group of my own at Madison College and being a student leader of color to a small performing arts group was an incredible perspective to bring to the MYArts table. Jess and Courtney made sure to tell me that every day! I feel one of my largest contributions was giving the perspective of what a small independent user group would like from the MYArts space and community. This, and creating a variety of manuals, signs and instructions for the building were my biggest contributions.

Intern Leslie Hernandez, who worked at LIFT Dane (Legal Interventions for Transforming Dane), said:

I was able to learn and take part in researching about policies in different states, not only in Wisconsin. Throughout this internship I was able to create a LinkedIn page and connect with other staff. Also I was able to help create a storyboard for an informational video on their website. … I have been able to learn about new professional career paths and how to balance working and going to school at the same time. 

And the employers had only good things to say, too.

Casey Brown, who supervised intern Mario Cancasco at Frank Beverage Group, wrote: 

Mario was creative and provided us with an outside, young adult perspective that is very beneficial to our industry. I was incredibly impressed with how smart and ambitious Mario is. He was such a pleasure to work with, and he and I connected and worked together quite nicely. 

Michael Ross’s colleague who supervised Desia at Madison Youth Arts wrote: 

Thanks to Temple Beth El and the Jewish Federation for creating and supporting this great program, and letting us participate as a very young organization. We were especially lucky to have Desia as our summer intern, and were thrilled when she accepted the part-time job we offered her.

And Marsha Mansfield, Leslie’s supervisor at LIFT Dane, wrote:

The intern we hosted made valuable contributions to our work and it was great to have new voices and energy added to our work. Addressing racial disparities is core to LIFT's mission, so hosting a Boys & Girls Club intern was one way that we could show our support of their efforts while gaining the perspective and contributions of someone whose lived experiences differ from those of other LIFT partners. We also helped the intern understand how racial disparities show up in a variety of barriers (driver's license suspensions, criminal records, etc.) imposed on people of color by our society.

In addition to the six internships organized and supported under the grant, 17 TBE members graciously participated in a fun Zoom speed-networking event. Students throughout the BGCDC programs were invited to attend, and Temple members were put into “rooms” for the categories of health care, mental health and social work, nonprofit management, law, arts, and education. TBE members provided students with background on why they chose this career, how they prepared for it, their careers’ rewards and challenges, and advice on how to prepare for such a career. Students also had the opportunity to ask the professionals questions. In addition, we prepared a directory of 37 Temple professionals with background and contact information and invited the BGCDC students interested in virtual or live follow-up discussions to reach out.

Going forward, we plan to apply for another grant and expand our involvement in this incredibly valuable and successful program. We hope that this year’s six employers will sign on for summer of 2022 and that additional Temple Beth El members will explore hosting a summer intern as well. Temple member Howard Erlanger prepared an evaluation and report on the program. For more information or to receive a copy of the evaluation, please contact Betsy Abramson at or 608-332-7867.

Very special thanks to the Jewish Federation of Madison for the grant support and to our six Temple Beth El members and their host sites:

  • Elizabeth Frank, Frank Beverage Group
  • Amy, Marty, Molly, and Randy Fields, Books4School
  • Marsha Mansfield, LIFT Dane
  • Joe Loehnis, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra
  • Michael Ross, Madison Youth Arts Center
  • Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice

Yasher koach! May we go from strength to strength!

Vegan Holiday Stuffed Cabbage

09/22/2021 02:51:55 PM


Adapted by Leslie Coff

Stuffed cabbage is traditionally eaten at Sukkot—and Simchat Torah—because the little rolls are reminiscent of the scrolls of the Torah. This tastes delicious—just like tradition!

Pro tip: put the whole green cabbage in the freezer and freeze overnight. Take out of the freezer and thaw completely. Remove the leaves one by one. They will then be perfect for rolling!


  • 1 pkg Beyond Beef “ground beef,” thawed
  • 2 small/medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 large green cabbage (see pro tip above)
  • 2 bottles Heinz chili sauce
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • Salt/pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 ½ cups dry brown or white rice (I prefer brown for this), cooked
  • 2 bay leaves


  1. In a deep saucepan, sauté the onions and vegan meat until onions are translucent, adding a few pinches of pepper and a pinch of salt. Turn off heat, mix with cooked rice, and let sit a few minutes.
  2. In a medium sauce pan, combine brown sugar, chili sauce, vinegar, and paprika. Add bay leaves. Cook on low heat, simmering, for 20-30 min. Spoon a few tablespoons into rice filling and mix well. Let cool.
  3. Take your cabbage head, with most leaves removed and set aside. Thinly slice the core and any smaller, unusable leaves and place all pieces on the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish (or similar). 
  4. On a plate or cutting board, take one cabbage leaf. Spoon filling in a line (about 1 ½ x 2-3 inches) on top of a cabbage leaf. Roll the leaf over the filling, tucking in sides as you go. Carefully place into baking dish. Continue this process until all leaves are filled and baking dish is filled. 
  5. Ladle all remaining sauce over the rolls.
  6. Cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
  7. Enjoy!

Rabbi Biatch's Erev Yom Kippur Sermon

09/20/2021 10:38:50 AM


Rabbi Jonathan Biatch 

Well, I – for one – am glad that those confessional prayers did not end with chadeish yameinu k’kedem, you know, that “renew our days as of old” stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy the music. But if I am asked to think about returning to the “good old days” once more, I don’t know what I would do.

I tell you: If you were around during those “days of old”, you’d not want to return there. Yes: the days of creation that you read about seem very bucolic and serene, and a return to Eden has been our dream for two-and-a-half millennia. But just like other nations’ creation stories and their tales of the gods’ jealousies and deceits, the Israelite stories of God and the angels who compete for our God’s attention also have their accounts of trickery, disagreement, and violence.

Here is what I mean:

According to Midrash Rabbah[1], when God was pondering the question of whether to create a human being, the four Ministering Angels – God’s closest personal assistants, according to our lore – immediately took opposing sides on that question.

Some said, “Kol Hakavod, God, great idea, go to it”, while the naysayers argued, “Big mistake, God. Do not create humanity”. So, you see, there was hardly unanimity on the answer to the question.

Then, four ethical values, personified as other celestial beings, stepped forward to testify about their predictions about humanity’s future.

The value of Kindness said: “Yes, create humans, because they will, in time to come, perform many acts of kindness.”

The value of Peace said: “Don’t create humans, because their souls will be full of discord and strife.”

The value of Justice said: “Please create humans: They will engage in just and righteous actions.”

And the value of Truth said: “You better not create humans, God, because nothing but lies will come forth from them.”

God did not think ‘lies’ were a component of the human species that the Divine One had in mind to create. But the reality of Truth’s statement somehow got under God’s skin, so to speak. The Divine One picked up Truth by the scruff of its neck and threw it toward the earth.

The Ministering Angels pushed back.

“God: You know humans will lie. You know they’ll be deceitful. What’s the matter, can’t You stand the Truth? And, by the way, why did You treat Truth, Your most important earthly value, so shabbily?”

God immediately saw the error committed, repented, and elevated Truth from the Earth.[2] This is the reason – says the Midrash – that Psalm 85 has truth “sprouting forth” from the earth.

Despite the great amount of lying or evasions in our speech and intention, Truth is still a vital ethical standard to preserve.

As I wrote in this year’s High Holy Day program, I am moved by Psalm 85’s reunion of these four values, where it says, “Faithfulness and Truth have met; Justice and Peace have kissed. Truth will sprout forth from the earth, Justice will look down from heaven.” Each of these values needs our protective care and cultivation, and it is the job of every person, through our personal and communal acts of goodness. And we need to ensure especially that Truth regains its rightful place in the human world.

Look: We know that Truth and Fact have been – shall we say – “in debate” as of late; Truth’s pessimistic assessment of humanity’s need to lie is proven correct every day. So let us begin by examining this working definition of Truth, in order to have a common basis of understanding.

Truth is:

  • The absence of falsehood … and it is more than that
  • It is “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”
  • It is speaking, living, and loving in completely authentic and transparent ways
  • It is the willingness to acknowledge the consequences of our actions
  • Truth can be confrontational – agonizingly so – and yet is, ultimately, best delivered directly and without filters
  • More importantly, Truth is a value to be sought, acquired, cherished, preserved, and diligently employed
  • And with proper intention, Truth never gets depleted; that is, the more one practices speaking Truth, the more truthfulness grows deeply into the soil of one’s character.

In the structure of Psalm 85, we see an intersectionality between Truth and Justice. Where the Psalm offers that “Truth will sprout forth from the earth; Justice will look down from heaven”, I interpret from this passage not merely a case of beautiful cosmic convergence, but also a statement of causality:

When Truth will sprout forth from the earth – that is, when we humans work to:

  • prepare the soil for Truth,
  • plant seeds of Truth,
  • nourish Truth regularly,
  • cultivate Truth through trimming it back occasionally and pulling out the weeds,
  • harvest Truth,
  • and venerate the Truth instead of trying to conceal it

– only then will Justice look down from heaven, and grant measures of Justice and Righteousness to the world.

Sadly, we, as a species, are not yet ready to practice this level of honesty, as we can see for ourselves that Truth is clearly under assault these days. What I find most distressing are the intentional manipulations of Truth we hear all too often, in order to achieve some personal, political, or factional end.

Consider, for example, the ongoing turmoil over the teaching of the history of the Black experience in America. There should be no debate about this matter; it should be abundantly clear and accepted by all that we must understand – far better than we have – the 400 years of the Black experience in North America.

And so, here is some Truth: It is likely that only a few of us have studied the subject of ‘Black history in America’ in any great detail. To those who did, kol hakavod, that is great. For those who studied it as part of a general social studies or history class, it may have been part of the curriculum, or it might have been the efforts of the exceptional, subversive, or iconoclastic teacher who injected this subject into class discussions.

What about future generations? It is our responsibility to prepare the soil of Truth for those who follow us in this world, which is why we must learn well, and then teach about the systemic inequities and injustices in our society. This can lead us to create a world where every human being can live a life of dignity and respect.

Our children need to be prepared to take on their share of this task when they enter the adult world. Yet, without knowing the True history of how our nation came to be, they cannot understand the underlying causes of the issues we face, and therefore, will be ill-equipped to meet the challenges they will confront as adults.

There are those who would not agree with these statements. The forces of White supremacy and racism confront school board members, and they also support state legislators, in pressuring them to reduce or bar the teaching of the Black American experience from their schools.

  • They want to declare the teaching of historical racism and its impact on our society as divisive and racist.
  • They also strive to prohibit anti-racist and diversity training among teaching and administrative staff. If we believe that teachers have the task – and the amazing power – to influence and guide our students, then they must be properly equipped to perform this part of their jobs, and given license to do so.

Such legislation has been proposed in at least 22 states, and has been passed in at least five[3]. Here in Wisconsin, proposed Senate Bill 411 would permit the state to punish school districts who wish to educate their students about these topics by withholding some of their state education funding. The proposed legislation would also allow parents to bring a civil suit against those districts for any alleged violations.

These proposals tear at the very fabric of Truth: they allow Truth to be concealed, discounted, and denied. They permit the prejudices of uninformed, biased, and selfish legislators to eclipse the professional judgments of educators whose job is to guide American children to their greatest potential. They prohibit Americans of all colors from joyfully and completely reaching out to offer mutual help and friendship.

Nothing could be more divisive than these proposals to suppress and contradict the Truth about our nation’s systemically racist past. We are, in our day, thankfully learning and acknowledging much about the behavior of rogue law enforcement officers, the violent activities of White supremacists (who, as we Jews know, don’t like us too much either), and – in general – about the systemic racism that has denied Black Americans equal access to the American Dream. The Truth is that we have much more to learn.

Rather than suppressing and prohibiting exposure to the Truth of our nation’s racist past, all Americans should study, ponder, debate, and reflect on this history. For when we do – when we bring the Truth of our nation’s past to light; when we understand not only the history but also the implications of more open viewpoints in the future – then the attribute of Justice will, indeed, peer over the edge of the heavens, look down upon us, and shower us with its life-sustaining waters. Righteousness will be present, and Peace and Kindness will follow.

I know that Yom Kippur is not necessarily the day to dream, a word here which could mean ‘permitting one’s imagination take one away from the world of reality’. Yom Kippur is a serious day of contemplation and reflection and real-world action. Yet I do wish to dwell for a few moments on the dream of Gloria Ladson-Billings, the first Black woman to become a tenured professor of education at the University of Wisconsin.

One of the areas of focus in her working and academic life was on the educational accomplishments – or the lack thereof – of Black children. She saw few succeeding, and dared to wonder why. For her, the Truth about the success of Black children was not in the difficult home environments they might come from. It was from the dearth of Black educators and educational role models. Black students were not exposed to Black educational leaders who could demonstrate how to guide, persuade, and enrich learning.

She began asking questions about teachers of students and their classrooms. She took a hard look at how children were taught. She examined how teachers view Black students and about how those attitudes affected their teaching. She asked herself, ‘What could be done to help teachers succeed to help their students?’

“I had two hunches,” she is quoted as saying. “One was that black students who found themselves in classrooms with skilled teachers could be academically, culturally, socially and civically successful. My second hunch was that African American teachers, whose numbers were dwindling, were key to black student success.”[4]

Perhaps she was being humble when calling her intuitions as “hunches”, but she pursued this dream with a vital and passionate energy, which has turned her hunches into a Truth, which has made a serious impact on the lives of students.

This is a small but important vignette. Small, because it will be some time until her teachings make a significant impact outside of the circles of academia. Though, there, too, in Madison, schools, she has had success already.[5]

Such is the influence of Truth. We see that

  • Truth can enliven the dormant human passions for work, for advancement of knowledge, and for human improvement.
  • Truth can release our inhibitions and allow us to develop honest and candid relationships with one another.
  • Truth can also help us determine when to rebuke someone with the Truth, or when to gently offer encouragement to people who simply have made errors.

Each of us makes mistakes; each of us speaks unTruths that represent our thinking, and may not be tied to our genuine intent or our persona. Still, Maimonides reminds us to remember the value of Truth, lest we fall prey – he says – to “the vanities of the times”, and we “pursue years of self-importance and idleness”.[6]

According to our lore, Rabbi Judah Loew both used and abused Truth when he created the Golem of Prague.

That creature was formed to serve the goal of Truth, distinguishing the serious antisemites from the casual ones and carefully determining appropriate punishment for the Jew-haters of the times.

As the last step of the monster’s animation, Rabbi Loew was said to have inscribed the Hebrew word for Truth – “emet” – on the forehead of the Golem. And yet, when life entered his body, the Truth he found compelled him to plunder, murder, and take other revenge on the ignorant people of Prague.

To stop his creation from performing further deeds of violence, Rabbi Loew removed one letter, the alef, from the word emet on the monster’s forehead, turning emet, Truth, to met, or Death. At that moment, the Golem went into “sleep” mode.

Perhaps this tells us of the dangerously slim region between Truth and Death, an area of which we must be cautious. Yet for us to find that paradise we all desire, that place where our “days will be renewed as of old”, we must take the risk to find, articulate, and defend Truth from those who would otherwise destroy it.

The prophet Zecharia had a prescription for us. He recommended us to ‘speak the truth: one with another’; that we should ‘render Truth and Compromise within our gates.[7]’ May our desire for Truth and Justice allow us to find them it in our day, and in the years to come.

G’mar Tov. May you have an easy fast and a good year ahead.


[1] Genesis Rabbah 8:5

[2] Ibid. Also, for a bit of rabbinic humor, the midrash then depicts the Ministering Angels arguing among themselves. God simply disregards the angels complaints and creates humanity right then and there. Then God chides the Angels for arguing about a moot point.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Repentance, 3:4

[7] Zecharia 8:16

Rabbi Biatch's Yom Kippur Morning Sermon

09/20/2021 10:23:48 AM


Rabbi Jonathan Biatch 

I like when we offer the prayer “Eitz Chayim Hi” – indeed, Torah is our tree of life. In our world today, there are many trees that inspire life. Let me relate to you something about one of them.

It is known as the Survivor Tree, a unique Callery Pear tree that was discovered amidst the rubble of the fallen World Trade Center, back in October 2001 when recovery efforts were underway.

This tree is unique because Callery Pear trees may be resistant to disease but are quite susceptible to storm damage, and may be regularly disfigured by limb loss, heavy snow and ice, and winds. Because of the force of the Twin Tower disaster, this tree’s roots were snapped, and its branches had been burned and broken.

The tree was removed from the rubble and placed in the care of the staff of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, who nursed it back to health. After its recovery and rehabilitation, the tree was returned in 2010 to Ground Zero at the site of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Today, new, smooth limbs extend from the gnarled stumps, creating a visible demarcation between the tree’s past and present lives. The tree stands as a living reminder of the possibility of rebirth, the benefit of persistence, and the result of resilience. The tree is named the “Survivor Tree” for obvious reasons.

I have been moved by tales of this tree’s rehabilitation, by what it means to the families of the victims of 9/11, and by the values it embodies for us when we confront the difficulties of our lives.
Sounds somewhat like OUR tree of life, the Torah, doesn’t it?

Figuratively Torah – and practically speaking the people of that book – have, over time, survived the multiple assaults perpetrated against us. Our tree of life continues to nourish and fortify us, even in modern times, even at moments of struggle and conflict, even when things seem bleakest.

It is difficult to imagine the original seeds of inspiration, the kernels of knowledge, the many guardians, and the numerous desperate needs that inspired our ancestors to plant that tree of life hundreds of years ago. Why did our ancestors create a set of ethical and moral laws for us to follow? What led them to envision one god instead of the pantheon of deities of other peoples of that time? Why was is so important for the ancient Israelites to be so separate from the peoples around them? We may never know definitively the answers to these questions, but we are the inheritors of this tradition, and we must decide how to employ it properly.

Since the time of the Torah’s inception, our later ancestors learned how to care and maintain that tree:
we created environments in which the tree of life could flourish, so that when the tree’s life was threatened, we could protect it against cruel winds of the world that sought to uproot it;

  • we learned how to nourish and hydrate the tree with additional knowledge and intention, so that old growth would be sustained with new offshoots;
  • we have sometimes needed to cut that tree back, removing unsuitable or incongruous branches from the main trunk;
  • we have carefully pruned the tree, so that the harvest grows in to its fullest extent;
  • and we have offered gratitude to that tree by applying layers of protection and love around her.

The Torah has survived for many years, and caring for it has required the skill set of some pretty advanced gardeners, that is, scholars, to ensure its continued growth. The Torah’s genius, and the system of Jewish learning that we have derived from it, gives us kernels of truth that we must study and understand. It is some of those seeds that we think about today, as Yom Kippur continues to inspire us for new ways of living in the year ahead.

One of my rabbinic mentors, Rabbi Robert Kahn, identifies five of these seeds, identifying them as values essential for our human existence. In our prayerbook Mishkan T’filah, Rabbi Kahn identifies these seedlings as personal attributes and characteristics.1  Perhaps they could resonate with us on this Yom Kippur day.

Rabbi Kahn identifies these five seedlings which have the tremendous potential to save and serve us: Strength, Humility, Courage, Patience, and Wisdom.
•    Strength, to control our passions
•    Humility, to assess our worth
•    Courage, to rise above our defeats
•    Patience, to cleanse ourselves of imperfections
•    Wisdom, to live by a set of sacred and sustainable teachings

Let us consider our own lives for a moment. How have we tried to put into action these simple virtues? Have we taken the time and expended the energy to think about each of them and employ them in our daily comportment?

These virtues appear in the Shabbat morning liturgy. When reading them aloud with the congregation, I hear resonance in the voices of the worshipers; I see nodding of heads among those who may be skilled at Jewish worship, as well as those attending a Jewish worship service for the first time. I sense a certain assent to these unique but common-sense values of our people’s tree of life.
As a rabbi representing our liberal tradition, all of that makes me very happy.

But then, I reflect on the wisdom of our Talmudic ancestors of 1,800 years ago, and realize that they, too, inspired us with insight. Our ancient rabbinic tradition provides us similar seeds which we can sow in the world in our day, and strive for a bountiful harvest. Perhaps you are familiar with these2. In Pirkei Avot, they wrote:

  • Who is wise? They who learn from every person, for Psalm 119 reminds us, “From all who taught me have I gained understanding”3.
  • Who is mighty? They who control their aggressive nature, for the book of Proverbs reminds us, that, “The one that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and the one that controls the spirit is preferred over they that conquer a city”4.
  • Who is wealthy? They who are content with their lot in life, as the Psalms remind us, “You shall enjoy the fruit of your labors, you shall be happy and you shall prosper”5.
  • Who should be honored? They who honor their fellow human beings, as the book of Samuel (in the voice of God) guides us, “For I honor those that honor Me, but those who spurn Me shall be dishonored”6.

These seeds have taken root in the Jewish psyche over hundreds of years, though I suspect that some of us struggle with their practical application. But it is our moments of struggle that define us; how we handle the struggle is what matters. The inner strengths we rely on provide us both sustenance and guidance for the future.

They also remind us, in a world full of extreme and negative speech as well as destructive actions, of the need to watch out for our reactions to the world and its challenges. 

For centuries we have regarded Yom Kippur as a day on which we come before God in a quest for t’shuvah, for repentance, on account of our transgressions of the year gone by. Our hope has been to find the Holy One waiting for us, a lenient God who would listen, understand, and – most importantly – sow seeds of forgiveness within those who sincerely appealed to You for Your divine grace.

But the search for grace and forgiveness is only part of the responsibility of this day. Today is a day when we search for inspiration to become better people, to strengthen the positive values that enrich our lives, to learn NEW values to fortify our daily existence, and to renew and restore the chain of tradition which enables us to learn from the past and give to the future.

Each year, springtime seedlings from that Survivor Tree at the 9/11 Museum and Memorial are distributed to towns and communities all across America that have endured immense suffering of their own. There are many. Cities such as Boston, Newtown, Charleston, Orlando, Las Vegas, and a growing list of others revel in receiving these seeds of remembrance and inspiration, to help them move forward in the wake of misfortune and tragedy. One day, tough and resilient Callery Pear trees will blossom forth in many places, comforting and inspiring thousands with the hope of connection and renewal. Then we shall all be connected in this system of beautiful branches and enduring roots that bring life and possibility to the world.

So, I offer this prayer to God, our Source and Sovereign, who provides life to so many, and who sustains so many with faith:
Avinu, Malkeinu, O Source and Sovereign’: Like the seedlings of the Survivor Tree, continue to send forth your seeds of Divine Wisdom and Guidance to those of us who require and deserve your love. Help us to know that the fruit of human knowledge sustains us always, especially at those moments of doubt and inner weakness. Permit us to share that sweet fruit with all whom we know and cherish in our lives.

Avinu, Malkeinu, O Source and Sovereign’: There is something comfortably reassuring about the continuity of life that we have been granted here on earth. Whether it has been the genius of the human species which manages to progress despite its periodic infirmities, or Your unique sheltering of the Jewish people through its two-and-a-half millennial-old lifespan: the brilliance of Torah and its guidelines for living ethical and moral lives is an essential part of what You grant us each day. Enable each of us to fulfill the requirements of these values.

‘Avinu, Malkeinu, O Source and Sovereign’: We are grateful as You support our role in the world as peacemakers, as people of gentle support, as those who need help to realize our potential, and as guardians of Your Tree of Life. Give us strength to persevere and succeed in this new year.
Ken y’hi l’ratzon. May this be God’s will.

[1] Mishkan T’filah, Central Conference of American Rabbis, 2007. Page 261.
[2] Mishnah Avot 4:1
[3] Psalm 119:99
[4] Proverbs 16:32
[5] Psalm 128:2
[6] I Samuel 2:30

Rabbi Biatch's Rosh Hashanah Morning Sermon

09/08/2021 12:45:27 PM


Rabbi Jonathan Biatch 

The Shofar Calls Us to Serve

Ah, the sounds of the Shofar! 

Those clarion calls that direct us toward repentance and forgiveness! 

The discordant music that could remind us of the discordant moments in our lives, and that could then compel us to harmonize our lives with others. 

That persistent sound whose message could be reproof for misbehavior. 

And the signal whose message it is to make positive changes in the world and in ourselves. These, and more, we find in the voice of a simple ram’s horn described in the Torah. 

The shofar has played the tune of Jewish survival down through the centuries. And the lore of our people assigns one further message in the sound of the Shofar: that one shofar sounding to mark the arrival of the messianic age. 

Traditional Judaism understands two biblical prophecies which, when read together, prepare us for that future transformation of the world: 

The prophet Malachi proclaims that the prophet Elijah will return to earth, preceding the advent of the messianic age. As someone who performed miracles in his day and whose stories have engendered faith in days since, his messianic role will be to bring about familial reconciliation, an important step toward the world’s ultimate salvation.1 

Then the prophet Zecharia reminds us that every human being – in days to come – will help to re-make the world just as it was at the time of Eden. Each of us will have a role to play to repair the world. 

Zecharia also makes it clear that the sound of the shofar will precede it all: the arrival of Elijah, the universal work to transform the world, and the ultimate peacemaking that will be the defining feature of that world to come.2 

It’s important to clarify that liberal traditions, such as the Reform movement, believe neither in a supernatural being’s involvement in, nor a sequence of events that herald the arrival of, the messianic age. For us, each person will engage in the repair of the world, a process that will organically bring about a time of universal peace and acceptance. 

But we nonetheless can be inspired by the stories of Elijah, the one prophet who never died a natural death, and who has been spotted throughout our 2,000-year-old diaspora helping people in need. He sets the example, and leads us toward the world’s salvation. 

I have sometimes wondered, what with the millions of shofar sounds that our earthly congregations usually produce on these holidays, whether Elijah would ever get confused and think that they signal the beginning of the messianic era. And I thought about how Elijah would react each year, at this time, to those calls. 

[SH’VARIM and T’RUAH Shofar Calls] 


How many times have I heard that sound! How often it has come to my ears! Thank you for declaring this New Year. 

Despite your rabbi’s fears, I know the difference between the usual beautiful sounds of the Days of Awe and that special shofar blast of the future. I know that it isn’t the moment for the messianic age to arrive … not just yet. And to be honest, you humans still have a lot of work to do … but you are making progress. 

I am here today because something else has come to mind, and since I have a Jewish congregation listening this morning, I must give expression to those thoughts. 

I, Elijah, the son of Tishbi of Gil’ad, am approaching my twenty-nine hundred and fiftieth yahrtzeit, though there are those who have asserted that I never really died, that I ascended alive to the heavens in that fiery chariot3. But I am glad that my descendants are keeping … and preserving … and promoting their faith. It does an old man’s heart good to know that his offspring maintain their family’s traditions. 

I am moved to speak to you on this occasion by the wonderful sounds of the shofar that you have just offered. For me, they contain memories, emotions, and heavenly sensations. Oh, if only you could have heard the shofar sounds as I have heard them, lo, these many years: 

The shofar calls that reverberated at the time of our people’s exodus from Egypt … The thunder, lightning, and shofar sounds that emanated from Sinai at the giving of the Ten Commandments … The sound of the shofar as it joyfully proclaimed the coronation of Israelite kings and queen in Jerusalem. 

And the shofar sounds throughout the generations at times of tragedy, as cries of warning and sadness: 

  • during the Crusades and their years of anti-Jewish violence and destruction 

  • during centuries of the Inquisition, and other persecutions and disabilities 

  • and during the Holocaust, as its fiery hunger consumed six million of you. 

Do not misunderstand me. The sounds of the shofar have pleased me. But they have sometimes been intermixed with painful sounds: nuclear explosions, terrorist actions, continuing cries of persecuted peoples: all signs of humanity’s inability to truly get along with one another. 

For example, let me see if I can catch an echo of that sound for you, so you can appreciate what I have heard in recent days, what summons me to speak to you, and what should cause each of you to pause and consider your predicament on earth: 

[January 6 Insurrection]

You may recognize these sounds: the actualities of rioting, of human hatred, deceit, and devastation. Your propensity for audacious ways of attacking one another saddens us in the celestial community. There was so much noise this year that we peered over the edge of the heavens, and considered setting aside our Prime Directive and intervening to save you. 

It was plain to us: in Washington, Minneapolis, in Kabul, Paris, the Xinjiang region of China, Palestine, Israel, even in Madison; and many others: a deluge of human detestation and destruction. 

And I also cannot help but note that, twenty years ago this coming Shabbat morning, there was a physical manifestation of this hatred that many of you remember: billowing plumes of ash and concrete dust, a storm of such magnitude and chaos that it rivaled one of your nuclear explosions. It enveloped New York, Washington, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 

We knew about the twisted and malevolent motivations of the perpetrators of terrorism. They were completely wrong, of course, and the Islamic sages and prophets with whom I share the heavenly house of study were distraught that a handful of their disciples had acted in such a way in the name of God. 

We asked, “Where was the shame? Where was their humility? Where was humanity on that day?” And we all wondered, “Where did any of us go wrong? Can’t we do a better job of things? Why does such evil intention and deed still thrive on the Earth?” 

We know well that intentions have not changed for some who hate full time. Destruction is on the mind of many, wanting to replicate the fires of persecution and aggression that are characteristic of some people in your world. You know well about the scourge of antisemitism, as well as every other persecuted group around. 

Something has got to give! 

Twenty years ago this week, we peered into that growing, consuming, conflagration of debris, and we saw something strange there. That malevolent cloud rolled down the streets of New York City, coating everything with a toxic, gray layer of dust and ash, coating the bodies and poisoning the lungs of those who inhaled it. 

In one very special sense, however, that gray cloud was holy, for it contained the essence of the humanity obliterated by it. Everyone who was touched by that cloud’s tendrils inhaled the souls and the spirits of the beautiful deceased. And for us, those souls will never lose their potential, and their sacrifice will be remembered, and elevated, and maintained in our memory. 

The people who wandered the streets, the ones covered with soot: the women and men; White, Black, Asian, Latinx, Middle Eastern; straight and gay, cisgendered and trans, younger and older; all those who were swallowed up by that cloud: with their patina of gray soot: the visage they presented sort of reminded us all of the beginnings of your world, many, many eons ago, when sentient beings began to emerge from the holy and fertile earth. 

Yes, I heard the Torah you offered a little while ago; I know you’re familiar with the Jewish Creation myth. Let me add a detail or two that are not in the book. 

At a very early moment in the history of your world, all creatures resembled one another. They were formless masses of organic matter. And only later, when God had the opportunity to form and teach and guide humanity; when God began to distinguish creatures by rearranging some DNA here and there; when God led humanity to study and grow; when the potential for establishing your “humanity” was greatest: 

Only then did the Creator instill in humanity variegations and differences in human character. And it was those differences between people which God called “very good” in the book of Genesis. It was – and is – those differences between people that you should be celebrating… 

… because the same thing could be said with those humans who emerged from the dust-cloud on September 11: they resembled the generation of pre-creation: gray, formless, oblivious masses, huddling in the doorways, fearing their new world, and hoping for salvation. We knew that each one was different from one another, yet each one bore the imprint of the Holy One. And each one is sacred, with sacred potential for goodness and integrity. 

Twenty years ago, when God saw those survivors with their grimy appearance, the Divine One remembered the human creatures from the first generations of Earth eons ago. God remembered the hope we all had for humanity. But realizing the terrorist action that brought about the devastation of that day, God was then heard to cry out, “I gave free will to humanity; I was hoping they would act to improve the world. Where did I – where did they – go wrong. Should we, once again, reconsider our pledge to restore Eden for them?” 

God was despondent. Creation’s blueprint did not anticipate selfishness, or brutishness, or a desire for dominance for power. Goodness knows you have known tyrants or would-be tyrants in your world. Some might even exist in your day. None of that was in God’s plan, and what we and God perceive today frightens us, and, frankly, makes your future quite dismal. 

But God then read the words of the late professor Stephen Jay Gould, who wrote about the presence of evil AND goodness within the human family: 

“Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one. The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people … every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the ‘ordinary’ efforts of a vast majority.  We have a duty, almost a holy responsibility, to record and honor the victorious weight of these innumerable little kindnesses, when an unprecedented act of evil so threatens to distort our perception of ordinary human behavior.”4 

So, we must ask ourselves this question every day as we rise to face the challenges of life: 

How will our actions affect the world? 

Will we allow inertia and apathy to flourish, and permit centrifugal force to pull us away from a common striving … or will we pull people together and help one another bring forth goodness into the world? 

When we hear the sound of the shofar – the vibrant or muddled, the short or the long, the weak or the strong, the ram’s horn, or that of the ibex – when we hear those sounds, will they be simply the background noise of everyday life, or will they break through and call us clearly to serve one another? 

In the New Year just beginning, will we disregard those in trouble, those who have difficulties in communicating with each other, those in a different state of life from us … or will we seek to help reconcile one person to another regardless of the differences between them, regardless of the barriers that exist between people? 

When we consider our tasks for the new year, how will each of us renew our plans for bringing goodness to the world? How will each human being activate their potential for restoring the Garden of Eden to our world? 

These are our challenges, for the choices are up to each of us. If we only pause and think, we can imagine what the Holy One of Blessing would like us to do. 

I, Elijah, the son of Tishbi of Gil’ad, know that the potential for progress is alive and well here. Want to know how I know? Let me share with you one further sound that I have heard this year, a sound that brings joy to my heart, and a feeling of hope to me and my colleagues: 


This the sound of your future. When your children continue to study, to learn, to chant, to celebrate their heritage, then I know their future is secure, and that you are moving toward the true fulfillment of their destiny. I, Elijah, have seen the future, and I believe you can do it. The point is, you need to believe you can do it. 

My, look at the time. I need to be on my way now. I’m very glad you summoned me with the shofar, even though it wasn’t yet time for messianic things to start. It was great to catch up and pour out our hearts to one another. 

Oh, and please remember: Come Passover in the Spring, dry wine, please. 

And until then, may you all have a sweet, prosperous, successful, healthy, and peaceful New Year. 

[1] Malachi 3:24
[2] Zecharia 9:14
[3] II Kings 2:11
[4] Stephan Jay Gould, cited in “Rambam’s Ladder: A Meditation on Generosity and Why It Is Necessary to Give” by Julie Salomon, Workman Publishing Company, 2003.

Rabbi Biatch's Erev Rosh Hashanah Sermon

09/08/2021 12:33:15 PM


Rabbi Jonathan Biatch 

The Rabbi’s Fires

Watch the video.

L’shanah Tovah – indeed, may this be a year of health and goodness for us all. I am glad to be with you tonight, both online and in person. 

This has been an amazingly difficult year for all of us in this sacred community. The confinement and struggles from the pandemic, not to mention the illnesses and deaths affecting hundreds of thousands both in the world and here in our community, have caused us to cry out with the book of Psalms, “Out of the deep and miserable of places I have called to you, Eternal One. O God, listen to my plea.”1 

Yet even with the restrictions, quarantines, and disappointments of the past eighteen months, we have continually shown up for one another … we have been present for one another … we have provided tangible resources for those in need … we have been active in the work for social justice … and we have joyfully worshiped together. We have shown resilience in the face of personal and communal difficulties, and – even in our angst – most of us have demonstrated resistance to skepticism. So, we might also say with the Biblical author of Deuteronomy, ‘Life itself has placed before us life and death, curse and blessing, and we have chosen life.’2 

Resilience, patience, courage, and hope: 

These are the qualities we need to possess and employ in the year ahead, just as we have needed them for the last eighteen months. 

Admittedly, some do not feel so optimistic or hopeful. There are those who are frightened, still unable to easily leave their homes and enter the public realm. And there are those who cannot go out because of infirmity, comorbidities, lack of mobility, or lack of transportation.  

So, in our community, it is essential that we help everyone: those who are unable to join us: we can serve remotely or go to them; those who are reluctant to be in person will tell us when they are ready to move forward, and we need to listen, try to comprehend their situation, and to accept them with open arms. 

According to the Talmud, one of the rabbis of our tradition spent time in isolation, and the difficulties he confronted could be instructive to us as we consider where our world has been in the last 18 months, and what we need to bear in mind as we re-emerge into society. 

I am referring to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, one of the most cited rabbinic authorities in the Mishnah. He lived for preserving Torah: inhaling its fragrance and exhaling teachings to new rabbis whom he ordained regularly. Teaching Torah was a consuming passion in his life. 

It was during his lifetime, however – the Second century of the Common Era – that Rome, as an occupying power in the land of Israel, had decreed torture and death for Torah scholars and for those who ordained rabbis. Rabbi Shimon not only taught and promoted Torah study, he also publicly criticized Rome because of its prohibition of religious instruction and tyranny over the Jewish community. In retribution, Rome sentenced Rabbi Shimon and his son, Rabbi Eliezer, to death, for conspiracy and treason, really just for teaching Torah. 

The father and son fled, taking shelter in an isolated cave in northern Israel, where, in defiance of the Roman authorities, they studied and taught Torah, day and night for twelve years, eating only carob fruit and drinking only water.Eventually, the Roman emperor died, Rome reversed their death sentence, and the rabbis could finally leave their protective confinement.  

It’s not difficult to imagine how they felt when they finally emerged from that cave: elated that the danger no longer existed; thrilled to be in the sun once again; happy to return to the God-fearing community of Israel. 

But the world into which they emerged in no way resembled the world they remembered twelve years before. They found a world that was – in their view, at least – unguided by Torah: 

  • People were going about their business with peaceful feelings and intent. 

  • Personal relationships seemed quite friendly and genuine. 

  • There was a spirit of optimism about the new Roman rulers … and … 

  • Farmers were plowing, sowing, harvesting, and rejoicing in their crops. Shepherds were guiding their animals. Shop-owners were doing a brisk business. The society had regained some prosperity, and people were living conventional and even mundane lives, something we’d hope for in our times! 

  • … and all on their own, without the rule of rabbis or the direction of Torah … 

… which infuriated the rabbis. Here, the Talmud inserts a fantastical tale: Wherever the rabbis looked, their eyes literally incinerated every person at whom they cast their glance. Hundreds of people died. 

God was so despondent at this behavior, that the Holy One banished the rabbis, returning them to their cave for an additional year,4 punishing the rabbis for their audacious behavior and giving Divine Approval for the normal, everyday lives of people. 

Those rabbis had their reaction to being confined for so long, and we have had ours. The last 18 months have, indeed, left us scarred and battered – but not beaten, or defeated, or bereft of our core values: 

  • We have answered the call of adaptability 

  • We have accepted the challenge of adjusting to new circumstances. 

  • We have responded with the approach of Deuteronomy: “Life itself has placed before us life and death, curse and blessing, and we need to choose life.’5 

Jewish tradition affords us further guidance. As Rabbi Tarfon reminds us in the Mishnah, ‘The day is short, the work expands, and the workers are lazy. Yet the payoff is enormous, the master of the house presses forward … and we recall that it is not our responsibility to finish the work, but neither are we free to neglect it.’6 Despite the difficulties of the past and challenges we will confront in the future, Rabbi Tarfon reminds us that we must push ahead. 

Being confined and quarantined this year has neither deactivated our humanity nor our ability to perform the work of social justice. And it certainly does not absolve us of the responsibilities we have toward one another. 

In the twelve years that Rabbi Shimon and son remained in that cave, they may have been awake to the words of Torah, but they were asleep to the needs of society. Can you imagine how wrong we would have been if we had been unaware of and resistant to the countless needs of society for that long a time? What would history think of us? 

So, as we emerge from our confinements of the recent past, it is time we turn our attention to a matter which we can no longer avoid as a human race, and that is global climate change. As we slowly resume more familiar pathways of life, each of us needs to join those who are active in helping to reverse the effects of this threat to our planet. 

About twenty years ago, former US senator, vice president, and then-private-citizen Al Gore began to share an illustrated lecture – this was before PowerPoint was a thing – on the state of the earth’s climate. Becoming a book and then a documentary film, “An Inconvenient Truth” was one of those ideas so large and confrontational that people turned away from it; they could do nothing but deny its reality. Few crucial decision-makers were willing to entertain the notion – shared so graphically and starkly – that humanity’s activities were destroying our planet. 

Why were we not willing to listen? It may be human nature to avoid the truly challenging truths that confront us. 

In his 2019 book “We Are The Weather”, Jonathan Safran Foer recounts a famous June 1943 meeting between Jan Karski, a Catholic member of the Polish underground, and a Jewish justice of the US Supreme Court, Felix Frankfurter. Karski hoped to impress upon the justice the perils faced by European Jews under the Nazis. 

Karski recounted the facts and the testimonies from European Jewish leaders with whom he had spoken, and Frankfurter paced back and forth in his office. According to Foer’s account, the justice then sat down, and, after a series of clarifying questions, he said to Karski, “Mr. Karski, a man like me talking to a man like you must be totally frank. So I must say I am unable to believe what you told me.” A companion to Mr. Karski in the room pleaded with the justice to accept Karski’s account, but the justice responded, “I didn’t say that this young man is lying. I said I am unable to believe him. My mind, my heart, they are made is such a way that I cannot accept [what he’s telling me].”7 

Foer’s conclusion is that our human species may have curiosity and a natural proclivity for seeking knowledge, but a poorly developed sense of what to do in the face of difficulty and danger. For Frankfurter and the Holocaust, he was unable to apprehend the enormity of the problem or possible remedies.  

Even today many are not willing to think that our planet could be slowly smothered because of human abuse. But if we look to the wisdom of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai for a moment – rather than that midrash about how he set people on fire – we can see that he, too, had a view about the earth and its resources. 

Rabbi Shimon said, “Three things are equally important: earth, humanity, and rain.” 


And Rabbi Israel bar Hiyah, who elaborated on Rabbi Shimon’s words, said this: “We must attend to Rabbi Shimon. These three terms are each composed of three Hebrew letters – eretz, adam, and matar – and are, therefore, equivalent to one another. They teach that without the earth there is no rain, without the rain there is no earth, and without them both there is no humanity.”8 

Rabbi Shimon reminds us that the existence of our planet depends not only upon the balance of the various elements of nature, but also the need to value and protect all the works of creation, and the requirement for humanity to have access to all of earth’s resources. 

We humans have been in a cave for far too long, unwilling to focus on this problem. We need to rid ourselves of our lethargy and renew our work to preserve our climate. This world is the only one we have, despite the science fiction accounts of distant planets of refuge. And so, we must consider: 

  • What each of us must do in our own homes; 

  • What our synagogue must do to further our work in making a positive impact on the climate; 

  • And what our community-at-large must accomplish to reduce our carbon footprints and try to reverse planetary climate change. 

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve recycled … we’ve cut back on our driving, especially this past 18 months … we have purchased hybrid and all-electric vehicles: but it has not been enough. The degradation of our planet’s resources, and the decay of the protective nature of its atmosphere, needs to alarm us at our core! 

I want to talk about eating for a moment, and I hope the following statistics DO move us, and disturb us. Changes in our everyday behavior could have a significant impact on the world’s situation. 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that methane-producing livestock – that is, cattle, goats, and sheep – are a leading cause of climate change. Their aggregated CO2 output is responsible for an estimated seven-and-a-half-billion tons of CO2 emissions per year, or 14.5% of annual global CO2 emissions.9 And if we included in these calculations: 

  • the CO2 exhaled by all those animals 

  • and the amount of CO2 that is NOT being absorbed by the trees that were destroyed to accommodate more grazing land for those animals … 

… it is estimated that the livestock-linked CO2 in the atmosphere is more like half, at 51 percent.10 

And for those who are concerned about getting adequate protein, the following may be of interest: 

The production of 6.61 pounds of CO2 are associated with a single serving of beef, cheese produces 2.45 pounds of CO2, pork produces 1.72 pounds, and poultry produces 1.26 pounds. And for those who are vegans, a serving of legumes produces one-tenth of a pound of CO2.11 

Speaking of food, I have begun digesting – it’s an 1,800-page plateful – the most recent report of the United Nations’ “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” published last month. If we are troubled about global climate change and our well-documented human pattern of intervening with and harming the planet around us, we need to read, accept, draw near to, and place into our consciousness this well-researched and frightening paper. Reading it late at night could bring on nightmares, but perhaps that kind of jolt is what we need. 

From the report's executive summary, we learn these facts. (The italicized phrases are taken from the report itself, I presume for emphasis): 

“It is virtually certain that the global upper ocean (0–700 meters, or close to half a mile) has warmed since the 1970’s, and extremely likely that human influence is the main driver. It is virtually certain that human-caused CO2 emissions are the main driver of current global acidification of the surface open ocean. There is high confidence that oxygen levels have dropped in many upper ocean regions since the mid-20th century, and medium confidence that human influence contributed to this drop.”12 

Further, “Since 1970, but especially since 1990, the change in global surface temperature has increased about one degree centigrade, where it is estimated that this same indicator had not appreciably increased in the 140 years prior to 1990.”13 

One terrifying aspect of last week’s devastating Hurricane Ida along the Louisiana coast is the rapid and immense intensification of the storm as it bared down on that region. These factors come from the increase in the warmed upper ocean temperatures over the last four decades, and – according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Miami – is likely to continue.14 

Finally, returning to “We Are the Weather”, the author mentions the Paris climate accords’ goal of maintaining no more than a two degree Celsius increase in global warming. He labels this innocuous-sounding uptick as “the outside edge of cataclysm”. He suggests that this increase in the climate would raise sea levels by 1.6 feet, and cities like Dhaka, Karachi, New York, and dozens of others will produce 143 million new climate migrants.15 

We can look at this information as Justice Frankfurter did and be overwhelmed with helplessness. But frankly, I view it as one of my tasks, as your Rabbi, that certain moments call for extreme efforts to inspire us all to action.  This is one of those moments. 

So, what are we to do? As much as is humanly possible! 

Minimally, please read everything you can find on how we humans affect the climate of our world. 

Next, get involved with the Environment and Climate Change Action Team, the newest of our Temple Beth El social justice task groups, which will help each of us become more familiar with ways to serve and save the planet. The Action Team is preparing for a congregational discussion in November of Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, and they’ll continue from there. 

Next, consider how your personal activities can help to reduce your carbon footprint. Others will follow our leadership when we discover and relate honestly and sincerely the truth of the situation. We need to recall that, in solving our problems, each of us is connected to others, in this county, our nation, and the world. This is a global problem and needs to be solved globally. 

Finally, know that – as with anything – it will take systemic change to make a meaningful dent in the climate change struggle. Suggesting that reducing or eliminating one’s carbon footprint in one place only to make up for increased emissions from over-pollution elsewhere may not make a significant difference in the world’s overall problem. We need a greater number of actions, as well as the mutual cooperation of large companies, governments, and citizens, to reduce their effect on the world’s climate.16 

For those of us of a certain age, we won’t feel the effects of climate change for much longer. But we must not defer action, for this is not the kind of world we want to bequeath to our descendants: a planet … 

… where water shortages, like the current one on the lower Colorado River, are common occurrences! 

… where crop yields will be significantly reduced! 

… where half of all animal species will face extinction! 

… or where weather disasters of all kinds rob humanity of lives and property!17 

Again, I remind us of the words from Deuteronomy, “Life itself has placed before us life and death, curse and blessing, and we need to choose life.’18 Let us rouse ourselves from our sleep, emerge from our caves, and realize there may still be actions we can take to slow the pace of, if not reverse, the global warming we currently experience. 

Unlike the world of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, when people were burning because of his personal anger, the whole world outside our caves is literally on fire, and we must find ways that we, as a planetary community, can douse the flames, save ourselves, and return to normal. 

Coming to my mind is the Star Trek film “First Contact”. One of the film’s plot-points is the future-world’s population’s shared reaction to the arrival on Earth of the first sentient extra-terrestrials. No longer alone in the universe, humanity discovered that it could cooperate on an international level, that disputes of territory and resources were of minimal importance, that money no longer mattered, and that people could progress forward: not in the heat of suspicion, but rather with the glow of humanity in their hearts. 

That is the kind of world we need right now. Let us strive to push us in that direction in the year to come. 

May this be a year of health and optimism, of good humor, of human caring and empathy, and of peace. 

L’shanah tovah. 

[1] Psalm 130
[2] Paraphrase of Deuteronomy 30:19 
[3] BT Shabbat 33b
[4] BT Shabbat 33b
[5] Paraphrase of Deuteronomy 30:19
[6] Mishnah Pirkei Avot 2:15-16
[7] Ibid.
[8] Midrash Genesis Rabbah 13:3
[9] Foer, page 95
[10] Foer, page 96
[11] Foer, page 100
[12], page 6
[13] Ibid, page 7.
[15] Foer, page 58
[17] Foer, page 59
[18] Paraphrase of Deuteronomy 30:19

Volunteer Opportunities 

08/04/2021 02:14:15 PM


Looking to volunteer? Need a b’nai mitzvah project? Here are ways to help people in our community.

Jewish Social Services Opportunities

JSS needs volunteers for no-contact delivery of groceries and other essentials, phone contact, and other tasks and projects. The need is particularly high for one or two volunteers to help with tech support. For further info, please contact Paul Borowsky at 608-442-4083.

JSS is launching its refugee mentorship program, Aljirani Madison, and is seeking volunteers! From the Swahili jirani and Arabic aljar—both meaning “neighbor”—Aljirani Madison is a six-month volunteering program that partners community volunteers with a local refugee individual or family to provide a warm welcome, companionship, and practical help. See here for a full description of the program. For further information, contact Sam Van Akkeren. Please note: partnerships will meet digitally for the foreseeable future.

Meals for Catholic Multicultural Center

The Catholic Multicultural Center (CMC) meal program provides grab-and-go meals from the CMC parking lot. Our volunteers drop off food every other Wednesday to meet the growing need. We cook for 80+ people by sharing recipes and dividing up the work. If you are interested in preparing food at home for delivery to CMC, please use this signup link. Contact Sue Levy you have any questions.

Porchlight wish list 

The Porchlight Men’s Emergency Shelter has made the move from the Warner Park Recreation Center to First Street. Porchlight is always in need of cleaning and household supplies, hotel size toiletries, and groceries. Items can be dropped off at 306 N. Brooks Street, and Porchlight will deliver them to the shelter. See here for items needed, or contact Pam Robbins for more information.

December 2, 2021 28 Kislev 5782