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Volunteer Opportunities

  • Porchlight Men’s Shelter needs cooks, bakers, and servers October 30: Our next Porchlight meal is Wednesday, October 30. We need shoppers, cooks, cookie bakers, kitchen minders, delivery people, and servers. This is a fun way to get to know your fellow volunteers! Sign up here.
  • Help with the social justice bulletin board: Any time, at your convenience: Scrapbookers wanted! Are you good with design and decoration? Able to post the occasional poster or photo? The Social Action Committee bulletin board by the office is sadly neglected and needs some love. Contact Marcia Vandercook at—you will be surprised at the level of heartfelt appreciation you receive!
  • Dane Sanctuary Coalition needs drivers to take immigrants to ICE appointments and court hearings: The Dane Sanctuary Coalition provides volunteer drivers to transport immigrants to important events like court hearings in Chicago and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services appointments in Milwaukee. The project gives volunteers a hands-on opportunity to get involved in immigration work as they provide a needed service. This is a very practical, immediate thing that people can do to help. According to Rabbi Bonnie Margulis of Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, “our drivers don’t just drop people off. They provide community support and friendship so the person in need does not feel so alone.” Training is provided, and volunteers can request reimbursement for gas, tolls, and parking. For more information, see here. If you are interested in providing this important service, please contact Rabbi Margulis at
  • Emerson Elementary School needs reading and math tutors for the school year: If you can spare an hour each week during the school year, you can make a positive difference in a child’s education. We have two kinds of volunteer opportunities during the school day and another type of activity in the early evening. All activities occur at the school on East Johnson Street.
    • Reading and math mentors: We’re looking for adults who want to work with elementary-age children on reading and math skills. You don’t have to be a math whiz—many kids need support with very basic math facts and strategies. The teachers will provide instructions and materials each day, and the school will provide training.
    • Family programs: We also help with special events at the school on two Tuesday evenings during the year. We help with pumpkin carving on harvest night (October 29) and serving food for the international dinner in May. These events are fun and a great opportunity for teenagers looking for volunteer hours.

If you are interested, please contact Marcia Vandercook at

Climate Action Is a Jewish Issue

For more than 40 years, the Reform movement has been committed to protecting the environment. As heirs to a tradition of stewardship that goes back to Genesis and teaches us to be partners in the ongoing work of creation, the Reform Jewish movement believes that it is our sacred duty to alleviate environmental degradation and the human suffering it causes.

In 2017, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) issued a resolution on the need for all congregations and institutions to take action to protect our environment from the emerging threat of climate change through local actions and advocacy. The URJ resolved to:

Encourage congregations to advocate that all levels of government uphold or go beyond the commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement;

Encourage congregations to prepare themselves and their neighbors for the adverse impacts of climate change and to work with local organizations to provide relief to those affected by these events.

Continue to advocate for legislative, regulatory, and judicial action to protect all communities from the damaging impacts of climate change;

Continue to advocate for the Canadian and U.S. governments to uphold our international responsibilities to decrease the human impacts of climate change; and

Encourage congregations to work with interfaith and other partners within their communities to advocate for and work to implement climate change solutions.

Responding to climate change is an urgent moral and spiritual issue, and it has never been more critical to make the faith community’s voice heard. For more information on the URJ’s position and what you can do to help put our world on the path to a sustainable future, see here.

Upcoming Educational Sessions on Racial Justice and Imprisonment

Do you have questions or concerns about racial disparities in the criminal justice system and how they play out in our courts and prisons? This fall is a great time for you to learn more!

Several upcoming programs will be of special interest to those who have participated in our forums on racial disparities in the criminal justice system, our Urgency of Now action team, and the court observer program, but all are welcome to attend.

These events are being offered at Fountain of Life Church on Madison’s south side. Fountain of Life and the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership are community leaders on this topic, and many TBE members have taken advantage of their illuminating programs.

Lessons from the Court Observer Program So Far
Tuesday, September 17, 6:30–8:00 pm at Fountain of Life, 633 W. Badger Rd.
Leaders will present and discuss aggregate information from the almost 350 submitted observations in the court observer program. What have we learned? Where do we go from here? Please respond to if you plan to attend.

Race, Politics, and Punitiveness: Trends in the Racial Patterns of Mass Incarceration
Sunday, September 29, 2:00–3:00 pm, Pyle Center Auditorium, UW Campus
This is a free lecture by Pam Oliver, UW professor emeritus of sociology and a well-known researcher in this area. No registration needed.

Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System
Tuesdays, October 8, 15, and 22, 6:000–8:00 pm at Fountain of Life, 633 W. Badger Rd.
These three 2-hour workshops, led by Dr. Karen Reece of the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership, are designed to educate the general public on mass incarceration and the criminal justice system in general.

With over 2 million prisoners, the United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. The U.S. prison population has quintupled since 1980. Although African Americans are about 12 percent of the U.S. population, they make up approximately 40 percent of the prison population. Wisconsin is widely known for incarcerating more African Americans per capita than any other state.

Still, maybe you ask yourself: Is this something I should worry about? These people did the crime, they are doing the time—what's the problem? How does this affect my community? Join us for one or all of these sessions as we address these questions.

  • Mass Incarceration Defined: What's the Problem? We will provide an overview of incarceration in the United States and what it means for our communities.
  • The Prison System: Purpose & Programming. We will describe the Wisconsin prison system, its purpose, and what an inmate might experience.
  • Community Corrections: Life after Prison. We will explain the ins and outs of Wisconsin's community corrections system, which encompasses probation, parole, and extended supervision.

Podcast on the Court Observer Program
If podcasts are more your style, you’ll be interested in the Reverend Alex Gee’s interviews with three members of the court observer program’s steering committee. Listen to this recent episode of his podcast Black Like Me at


Jews Should Support Our Local NAACP

Rabbi Bonnie Margulis

During rabbinic school, I was privileged to be a legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) in Washington, DC. At our orientation, we were given a tour of the RAC building. The highlight of the tour was the RAC conference room, where we were told that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were drafted at that very conference room table, as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights was a tenant of the RAC building.

As it turned out, practically every person who walked into the RAC was given this same information. It became something of a joke among us legislative assistants, as we started repeating this information in chorus every time one of us had to give the tour. But as much as we joked, we were all very proud to know of our movement’s part in the struggle for civil rights.

Jews and African Americans have a long history of shared struggles for equality and an end to racism and antisemitism. The NAACP's first two presidents, Joel and Arthur Spingarn, were Jewish. Jewish philanthropist Julius  Rosenwald helped found over 2000 schools and 20 colleges for black students. At their height, more than 40 percent of black students in the South were educated at “Rosenwald” schools. The Urban League also had Jews among its founders.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua  Heschel marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., famously saying he felt he was “praying with his feet.” Perhaps less well-known is Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington and gave the last speech just before Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream’ speech.

The summer I worked at the RAC, in 1989, marked the 25th anniversary of the murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman—an African American young man and two young Jewish men. One of my fellow legislative assistants worked on an event to commemorate their sacrifice for civil rights. I’m ashamed to say I had not heard of them before, but I learned that Jews were disproportionately represented among the young people who went to the South during the Freedom Summer of 1964, making up about half the volunteers.

Today the fight against systemic racism continues, and Jews continue to be on the forefront as allies of people of color, as well as women, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ communities. We recognize that Dr. King’s words, written so long ago, are still so true today: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Maintaining the connection between the Jewish and African American communities is a goal we need to pursue, especially in these days when national figures and “leaders” use racist language to divide us.

Accordingly, I would like to extend an invitation to each of you, as Jews who care about justice and equality for all, to show your support for Dane County’s communities of color by joining the Dane County NAACP ( and attending the annual NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner on Saturday, September 28—one day before erev Rosh Hashanah. What better way to enter the Days of Repentance than by committing yourself to work for racial justice and equality?

As a member of the Dane County NAACP Executive Committee, I look forward to welcoming you to our branch and seeing you at the Freedom Fund Dinner!

Working with an Undocumented Family

Bobbie Malone

Marta and Glenn Karlov moved to Madison from Appleton, where they had lived for 12 years and raised a family. As a relatively new member of TBE, Marta spoke with Betsy Abramson about the immigrant action team the congregation had recently formed.

Marta thought it would be a perfect match for her experience. She is an immigrant herself, having come to the United States from Colombia, where, in 1984, she met and married her American husband, Glenn. At the time, it was much easier to immigrate, and she received a green card the day her plane landed. She had no difficulty in becoming a citizen, a process that took her no more than six months.

While Marta understood that many immigrants in this country had stories that were not as straightforward and fortunate as hers, she had not previously become an activist on their behalf. Joining the immigrant action team transformed the trajectory of her interest and passion. Knowing that people seek to be in the United States to improve their circumstances and provide for their families, she wanted to become more involved in helping others negotiate and navigate the tremendous web of obstacles facing them and their children.

More than many of us, Marta realizes what families are facing in countries in Central America. Living in Ecuador and Colombia for many years, she saw firsthand the difficulties people faced in making a living and caring for their children. Sometimes the violence and other unmanageable situations confronting them are truly horrendous.

She became co-chair of the immigrant action team with Erica Serlin and Lynn Silverman, and through them became aware of what organizations like Madison’s Community Immigration Law Center (CILC) are doing. Because of this involvement, she was asked to help Spanish speakers with intake interviews before meeting with attorneys to help them to prepare their cases for asylum.

Marta works for American Family Insurance and is unable to make daytime commitments, but she learned from a non-Spanish-speaking attorney on the board of CILC that a family from Honduras here in Madison needed her assistance. Another Boston-based organization, Together and Free, was trying to help families separated at the border, including this one, with a 15-year-old separated from her father at the border. This young woman had just been released from detention and came here to live with her uncle. Another of her father’s sisters is also here, with her four-year-old.

Marta learned that the grandfather had been killed in Honduras, and then the same gang went after the father and his daughter, because he was a policeman. ICE separated them, deporting the father and placing the daughter in detention.

The social worker in Boston wanted Marta to help this extended family deal with language barriers and other needs. Not long after Marta became involved, the father finally was released from detention after crossing the border again with his pregnant partner, and made his way here with the help of a third organization. Another 17-year-old brother was also detained and deported. The entire family is seeking asylum.

With the help of many volunteers, the father and his partner, the baby born in May, and the 15-year-old were able to get an apartment near their uncle.

Marta also learned that the family member who was deported back to Honduras was sent on a plane with feet and hands bound, traveling all day without food, water, or bathroom privileges: “three hundred people on the plane, all tied like animals.” As Marta aptly expressed the situation: “It just breaks your heart.” Where is the humanity? Where is the justice?

Marta has been helping the family in a variety of ways: making attorney visits with the sister to help her apply for asylum, bringing donations of goods that the family needs, spending time with the 15-year-old to monitor her adjustment. Although some family members have also been helped by Catholic charities, when they called upon Centro Hispano to try to get the daughter psychological help, they were not so fortunate, since the center seems to be overwhelmed with requests for help.

Still, interventions by volunteers within dedicated community organizations have helped the family get much-needed services. Members of TBE have also been very generous with necessities, gift cards, and cash donations.

As for the undocumented brave uncle of this family, whose sister was denied asylum, he has put himself at great risk by helping other family members, because of his own precarious status. Each depressing encounter, such as his brother’s deportation, only deepens his anxiety.

Yet every small act of kindness makes a difference. Marta especially enjoys the way the children light up when she visits with small gifts, such as craft supplies that give them a way to express themselves.

What can others at TBE do to help this family get established? For options to get involved, you can contact Marta, Lynn, or Erica to find how to advocate for immigration reform or to volunteer to assist if and when an undocumented individual or family requests sanctuary.

Through Fabiola Hamdan, immigration affairs specialist at the Dane County Department of Human Services, who works closely with Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, we have since learned that there are at least 12 other families seeking asylum here in Madison.

When we realize how many hoops just one family has to jump through to try to gain asylum, and we multiply that by the needs of many thousands of others, the work can feel overwhelming, but every action we take can make a difference.

Please join us in the long fight for a more just immigration policy and procedure.

Healing House is Open and Welcomes Its First Families

Cathy Rotter

The Healing House, a program of Madison-Area Urban Ministry (MUM), officially opened on July 8, 2019. Located at 303 Lathrop Street in Madison, this eight-bed facility provides 24/7 recuperative care by medically trained staff and volunteers for up to 28 days. It is the first program of its kind in Wisconsin and provides medical respite care to families who are homeless and have an immediate family member in need of ongoing medical care during recovery.

The Healing House provides clients meals, childcare assistance, and case management to end the cycle of homelessness. It is a cost-effective alternative for hospitals and the community, promoting wellness for homeless families in Dane County. Nationwide, there are 63 facilities offering medical respite, a proven model of care.

As an interfaith organization, MUM is responding to the call across faith traditions to care for the sick. In Judaism, the mitzvah of bikur cholim (Hebrew for “visiting the sick”) includes a wide range of activities that include providing comfort and support for people who are ill.

The Healing House is partnering with The Road Home for case management and volunteer assistance. Temple Beth El has partnered with both MUM and The Road Home in the past, and therefore it seemed natural for us to continue that partnership by volunteering with the Healing House. Volunteers are being asked to assist with dinner by cooking and dropping off meals or by serving and cleaning up after dinner at the house.

Two families have moved into permanent housing since the Healing House opened on July 8, a testament to the excellent case management provided by The Road Home staff. The families have been so appreciative of having a safe place to recuperate along with delicious meals to enjoy every night.

Temple Beth El volunteers will be providing meals and helping to serve the week of August 25–31 and in future weeks to be determined. If you are interested in helping out, please contact Cathy Rotter at

Pronouns: Our Communal Responsibility

Gwen Costa Jacobsohn

Have you noticed people including a line about pronouns at the bottom of their email messages and wondered to yourself, “Why on earth are they telling us that?”

Maybe you have been to a meeting where someone has included their pronouns when making introductions, or you’ve filled out a registration form that asks what pronoun you use.

You may have wondered why people feel the need to make bold announcements about something as small and simple as a pronoun.

If you have ever asked yourself these questions, it is likely that the language people use to describe you matches the gender that you perceive yourself to be (i.e., your gender identity).

Not everyone, however, has the privilege of taking pronouns for granted.

For some, including people in our own Jewish community, being referred to by the correct pronouns is a daily struggle.

It may be because the gender others believe they are, or what it says on their birth certificate, does not match who they know they are inside. It may be because we live in a society that divides people into binary male and female categories, while they see themselves as being something other than one of those mutually exclusive options.

Perhaps they are questioning what words best describe them, only knowing that “he” or “she” doesn’t quite seem right.

When we use pronouns to describe someone, we rely on a whole host of assumptions about their gender identity.

It may not be something you are conscious of, but using a pronoun that does not match a person’s authentic gender identity (whether you are talking to that person or about that person) chips away at their sense of self and communicates that you do not recognize them for who they are.

In 2015, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) passed the “Resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People,” which in part “affirms the right of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals to be referred to by their name, gender, and pronoun of preference in our congregations, camps, schools, and other Reform affiliated organizations.”

Jewish organizations like Keshet have worked closely with congregations, camps, and social service agencies to create programs and policies that help move us to full LGBTQ+ inclusion. The URJ, through its Audacious Hospitality initiatives, has created guidelines for congregations to follow in this effort—including the need to use and honor the pronouns with which each person identifies.

The Jewish value of kavod (honor) is instrumental here: By using the correct pronouns, we honor individuals and what they bring to our communities.

If we truly believe that b’tzelem Elohim (we are all made in the image of God), then we have a moral and spiritual obligation to actively affirm all individuals by using their pronouns. Otherwise, we are neither honoring God nor upholding other Jewish values, like g’milut chasadim (doing acts of loving-kindness) and kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh (taking communal responsibility).

Now you might be asking yourself, “What about all these pronouns I see on registration forms and online that aren’t ‘he’ or ‘she’? Why do we need to be concerned with those?”

Judaism has long embraced nonbinary or shifting gender identities. With over 1,600 references to nonbinary identities across Jewish texts (e.g., Talmud, Mishnah, Midrash, Kabbalah), Judaic scholars have demonstrated there are at minimum six different genders (including what we refer to as androgynous and intersex), all of which could not possibly be described using only male and female pronouns. With such a strong tradition of using different words to refer to different types of gender identities, how could we possibly restrict modern-day Jews (or anyone else) to using only two?

Even if you recognize the strong Jewish foundation for honoring people by using correct pronouns, you may be still be thinking that plural or gender-neutral pronouns are just a fad or are not “grammatically correct.” In fact, using pronouns other than the binary he/him/his or she/her/hers is not a new idea!

In English writing, use of the singular “they” (referring to one person) can be traced back to the late 1300s and only fell out of favor in the early 1900s. Grammarians have been actively suggesting and debating the adoption of alternative or nonbinary pronouns since at least the late 18th century.

In real life, we use the singular “they” all the time without even realizing it, particularly when speaking about a hypothetical individual whose gender designation is unknown or irrelevant. Don’t believe me? Reread this post from the beginning. I bet you didn’t even notice my choice of pronouns the first time around, even in an article about pronouns!

This usage is both common and accepted in practice today. Most major English dictionaries and style guides now formally endorse the use of singular they/them/their pronouns. (For more historical information, I encourage you to read this recent NPR story.)

Your next question might be, “So how am I supposed to know what pronouns to use?”

The short answer is, you don’t—not unless you ask or someone tells you what their pronouns are. Right now, these exchanges are not a regular part of our culture and could lead to awkward or uncomfortable moments (especially if someone isn’t quite ready to share, or is currently questioning, their gender identity).

To start making pronoun use a normal part of our community at TBE, we are going to follow the URJ’s (and the Reform youth movement’s) lead by offering pronoun stickers that individuals can add to their name badges. These stickers will say things like “My pronouns are he/him/his,” or “she/her/hers,” or “they/them/theirs.” Some will have space to write other pronouns (see examples and grammar usage here), and some will say, “Ask me about my pronouns.”

These stickers will be made available for everyone, not just people who identify as transgender or a nonbinary gender. The more people who add stickers to their badges, the more normal the practice will become, and the more inclusive our synagogue will be.

These stickers will be available starting at this Friday’s Pride Shabbat, and they will be located by the nametag holders in the coatroom.

I hope that many of you will join me in creating a welcoming and supportive environment by adding a sticker to your name badge before High Holy Day services this fall.

I am very happy to answer any questions you have or provide additional resources, either in person or via email ( You may also call the TBE office to talk with one of our clergy or staff members.


Gwen Costa Jacobsohn

1st Vice President, Temple Beth El Board of Trustees

This Year’s High Holy Days Food Drive Will Broaden TBE Support for Hunger Relief

by Sherie Sondel

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I, Adonai, am your God. Leviticus 19:9-10


For years, congregants at Temple Beth El have been working to combat hunger through their donations, service, and advocacy.  We recognize the fear and difficult decisions many people in our community must make on a daily basis to obtain enough food. We know this is especially devastating for children, where chronic hunger can result in impaired mental and physical functioning, behavioral problems, and delayed development.

The Social Action Committee has long raised funds for hunger relief through the High Holy Days Food Drive. In recent years these funds have been donated to Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, which uses a cost-efficient system to purchase and distribute millions of pounds of food each year through local partners. The funds from this year’s food drive will continue to be donated primarily to Second Harvest, in recognition of their efficiency and our long-standing commitment to their work. (In fact, the name “Second Harvest” refers to the gleanings of the fall harvest described in Leviticus).

Additionally, this year some of the food drive funds will be used to support other TBE hunger-relief initiatives. These programs will include:

  • TBE members prepare and serve dinner to about 100 homeless men through the Porchlight emergency shelter program on the 5th Wednesday of the month. The meal is cooked in the TBE kitchen and then served at Porchlight in the Grace Episcopal Church.  Food for breakfast is also provided for the following morning.
  • TBE will be joining an interfaith program at Thoreau Elementary School, one mile from Temple Beth El.   As a result of weekend food insecurity among almost half of the student body, community partners have been meeting to develop a program for the next school year. Non-perishable food items designed to provide two nutritious meals will be sent home for the weekend to struggling families.
  • TBE will continue to work with the Road Home in a different capacity. The Road Home coordinates meals for families staying at Healing House, a new project of Madison-Area Urban Ministry. Healing House provides a temporary medical home for homeless families who have recently been released from the hospital or who need housing while they recuperate from illness.  We, along with our sister congregations, will provide meals for approximately 4 weeks per year.
  • The Religious School will continue to collect food for Thanksgiving baskets provided through the Goodman Community Center. Last year Religious School families donated hundreds of cans and boxes of food as part of a community-wide effort to feed 3900 needy families. Through this program we help the next generation understand this important mitzvah.

We hope you will be able to give generously to support these hunger initiatives. Any amount you can give will be greatly appreciated.

As always, we will distribute donation envelopes at Rosh Hashanah services. Please make checks payable to “Temple Beth El” and include “Food Drive” on the memo line. You can return the envelope on Yom Kippur to the big brightly-colored tzedakah box in the Community Court, or mail it back to Temple.

You can donate online by clicking HERE. Please choose High Holy Day Food Drive as the Type. 

If you want to engage in policy-based advocacy at the state and federal level, see the many resources available through Mazon. Inspired by Jewish values and ideals, Mazon is a national advocacy organization working to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds, in the United States and Israel.

Thanks again for all you have done and continue to do to fight hunger in our community.

TBE Social Action Committee

How to Achieve Humanitarian Aid and Sensible and Humane Immigration Laws

by Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

The Adelanto Detention Center facility is seen in a file photo. (Credit: Los Angeles Times)

Dear fellow members of the Temple Beth El community,

Our hearts ache to see the deplorable living conditions imposed upon immigrants and refugees—and especially the hundreds of children—who have been held in detention camps along our nation’s southern border.

Reports of their going without soap for hygienic purposes, of their sleeping on cold concrete floors with only a foil thermal blanket for a cover, of their receiving inadequate medical care and insufficient nutrition, stun the mind.

We as a nation can act better than this, especially toward those who wish to come to our country seeking a life of liberty and possibility, just as our Jewish ancestors did in the last 150 years, and as did our secular ancestors who came to our shores before the establishment of our country.

Please see below for a list of resources for education and action at this critical time in our nation’s history. This list was lovingly put together by our Social Action Committee and our Urgency of Now Immigrant Action Team, and I am deeply appreciative of their efforts.

Our nation has the potential for acting in great and humane ways. Let us help our elected officials recall that potential at the crucial moment in time.


Rabbi Jonathan Biatch


How to Achieve Humanitarian Aid and Sensible and Humane Immigration Laws


Children should not be dying at the border. The United States needs an immigration policy that combines border security, justice, and humanity. The stalemate on immigration is a choice that Americans do not have to accept. You can help end it.


Here’s how:

Learn: Here is a set of immigrant rights resources compiled by our Temple Beth El Urgency of Now Immigrant Action Team:

Call Congress, your mayor, and your local representatives. Contact your members of Congress and tell them that you want impending raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be called off and detention conditions improved:

Tammy Baldwin –, 202-224-5653

Ron Johnson –, 202-224-5323

Mark Pocan –, 202-225-2906

You can also reach out to your local officials to ask that they initiate plans to help immigrant communities that are affected by the raids. The government website provides links to finding your city, county, and town officials.

Report and document raids and arrests. The National Immigration Law Center has suggested reporting raids to local hotlines, such as United We Dream’s MigraWatch.  The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services [RAICES] has urged that people verify any social media posts saying ICE has been spotted before sharing or retweeting them because false alarms could spread fear in immigrant communities.


Donate to humanitarian efforts. Many immigrants are not informed of their legal and civil rights as they pursue asylum or face deportation. Several nonprofits are providing free legal representation and other services for immigrants and the families of those detained. United We Dream, the American Civil Liberties Union, Mijente, Immigrant Families Together and the Immigrant Justice Corps are coordinating advocacy and services at a national level. Local organizations providing legal aid include the New Sanctuary Coalition in New York, Las Americas in El Paso and RAICES in Texas, Americans for Immigrant Justice in Florida and the Denver Immigrant Legal Services Fund in Colorado. Locally you can help through Together and Free, supporting a local Honduran family, and the Dane County Immigrant Assistance Fund, supporting local undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers. Please check online to see how to make contributions.

Pilar Weiss, project director of the National Bail Fund Network, says one of the most effective ways to reunite immigrants separated from their families is to assist with paying their bail, which can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $80,500. You can find and donate to a bail fund in your city through the National Bail Fund Network.


Inform yourself and your community. The A.C.L.U., which joined forces with Brooklyn Defender Services, has shared a “Know Your Rights” page for encounters with ICE. It has also provided a video to help understand your rights and what to do if ICE officials come to your home.


This coming Sunday, June 30, 2:00–4:00 pm, come to a “Know Your Rights” seminar here at Temple Beth El. For yourself, or for your work in the future with the Dane Sanctuary Coalition, understanding your role and responsibilities is crucial.


Hold political candidates accountable. While the presidential primaries are at least seven months away, you can prepare to cast your ballot for a more humane border policy by following what each candidate has shared about his or her plans for immigration reform.

Speak up. Protest marches and other civic actions to end detention camps and squalid conditions for children and families are expected across the country in the coming weeks. You can also take part in Lights for Liberty, a nationwide vigil on Friday, July 12. The location for the vigil in Madison is at Brittingham Park, 829 West Washington Avenue, 7:15–9:15 pm.

Adapted from the New York Times, Opinion, June 24, 2019.



Reproductive Justice: A Critical Issue for Our Time

By Jane Taves

An exciting thing happened on the way to the Consultation on Conscience in May. This Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) conference, held every two years, was the opportunity to refresh the Brit Olam (Covenant for the World) program of the URJ Religious Action Center (RAC). Temple Beth El has been participating in the Brit Olam with our Urgency of Now initiative for the past two years.

As part of the next iteration of the Brit Olam, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) is responding to the great passion and urgency around the issue of reproductive justice. WRJ has agreed to support congregations throughout the Reform movement who want to advocate for this issue. As the WRJ vice president for advocacy, marketing, and communications, I have been involved since the start of the WRJ Reproductive Justice Campaign, in partnership with the RAC.

In recent weeks, we have seen many state laws that would restrict access to abortion and in some cases send women or doctors to prison for acting on their constitutional rights. WRJ is taking on this challenge and stepping up our efforts to secure women’s rights and ensure that women remain in control of their own health care decisions.

The Reproductive Justice Campaign will provide training, education, and resources to mobilize the Reform community. We will work at the federal and state levels to ensure access to safe and legal reproductive health care, including abortion services.

WRJ President Susan Bass offered an inspiring message about this effort during the RAC Consultation on Conscience, proclaiming: “As we look around at what is broken in our world, we know that this moment demands our presence and our voices in the work of ensuring reproductive justice for all.” View her message at

The goal of the Reproductive Justice Campaign is to make sure that no woman—not us, not our sisters, daughters, granddaughters, nieces, or any woman—ever again finds herself in a back alley, desperate and alone. Please help WRJ spread the word about this effort to others who share our progressive Jewish values. We are proud to be the champions in this fight for reproductive rights and justice.

Click here  for more information about the Reproductive Justice Campaign.


2019 Pride Events

In August, the Madison community celebrates its ongoing commitment to equity and quality of life for all LGBTQ+ people. On Friday, August 16, Temple Beth El will start the weekend with our annual Pride Shabbat at 6:30 pm. This event is in the planning stages, so if you have an interest in being involved, please contact Aleeza A. Hoffert at

The broader Madison community has traditionally celebrated Pride Week with a parade, but this year the celebration will take the form of a new OutReach Magic Festival, to be held on Sunday, August 18, 2019, at Warner Park.

The OutReach Magic Festival will recognize the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and the 30th anniversary of Madison’s first Pride parade. There will be activities for all ages, entertainment, food and merchant vendors, information booths, and more. The festival will focus on bringing the community together for celebration, healing, and rejuvenation. For more information, see

The Surprising Stresses of Returning from Prison: 50 People See How Hard It Is to Succeed

By Mary Fulton and Jim Mackman, Co-Chairs, Urgency of Now Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System Action Team

On June 2, 2019, the Urgency of Now (UON) Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System Action Team hosted a Returning Prisoner Simulation. This eye-opening and immersive experience, developed by Madison Urban Ministry (MUM), was divided into three parts. In the first hour, MUM staff shared a description of the many programs that MUM provides to help those who are returning to the community from prison. During the second hour, the 50 attendees participated in the simulation, which was run by MUM staff and volunteers. The final hour included a debriefing with MUM staff and volunteers, including the perspectives of individuals who have been through the re-entry process themselves.

The powerful simulation provided a close-up view of what it is like to come home from prison. Each of the participants received a mock profile and took on the role of that person as they sought to complete fundamental tasks, such as finding housing, a job, food, clothing, and health care, while complying with the terms of their release. Some were “confined to their home” for part of the scenario to simulate being on electronic monitoring. Most struggled to get the necessary documents, including a Social Security card, birth certificate, and state identification or driver’s license. Some were required to obtain medical, psychological, and/or substance abuse treatment. Many were required to have regular contact with their parole officer and to complete a certain number of job applications in a given period. For most participants, money and travel vouchers were very limited, so they had to make difficult choices when setting their priorities. The simulation provided a terrifying glimpse of the challenges and frustrations that people experience when they return to the community.

TBE member and program participant Marcia Vandercook said of the experience: “I felt like I was in a scene from Catch-22. I couldn’t get an apartment until I had a job; I couldn’t get a job until I had a Social Security card; I couldn't get a Social Security card until I had bus fare. Every minute I spent in AA was time I couldn’t spend in the employment line; every dollar I spent on child support or medication got me further away from ever being able to pay rent. I realized that the multiple obligations we place on people returning from prison are almost impossible to fulfill."

TBE member Betsy Abramson was experiencing the simulation for the second time. She said, “This time through was as frightening, frustrating, and upsetting as the first. The added power to the experience was listening to the generous returning citizens share their stories: mistakes they had made early in their life landed them in prison for 10, 20, or more years, away from their children and support systems and then totally unprepared to return to a changed society with impossible expectations. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories. We must do better, and I am hopeful that our Temple’s action team can contribute to easing the re-entry for these citizens.”

Please keep your eyes open for more UON racial justice events coming up this fall. Any TBE members who are interested in taking a more active role with the UON racial justice team should contact Mary Fulton at or Jim Mackman at

Consultation on Conscience Conference: A Call to Action

By Marta Karlov

In May, TBE congregants Jane Taves and Marta Karlov joined 1,200 fellow Jews from around the country in Washington, DC, for a deeply inspiring, spiritual call to action at the biennial Consultation on Conscience, organized by the Religious Action Center (RAC) of the Union for Reform Judaism.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the RAC, opened the session with excitement and joy, and we celebrated the accomplishments of congregations around the country since the last meeting, in 2017. Many impressive speakers followed with their personal stories and calls for action. You can watch all of them at Following are summaries of what some of them shared.

Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, spoke about the respite center she runs for asylum seekers at the border. Every day they help thousands find a place to sleep and bathe and to find safety, not as a political issue, but as a humanitarian reality. She urged us to not walk away and to bring consciousness to others about this very human issue, reaching out to those who don’t understand.

Peter and Jill Kraus honored his grandparents, Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, who saved 50 Jewish children from Vienna before World War II, at great risk to their lives and reputation in their Philadelphia community. There was not a dry eye in the room when they told of how parents and children were not allowed to wave to each other as they said goodbye, as Jews were prohibited from waving their arms in public. Peter and Jill pledged to deepen their support for the RAC to welcome refugees and asylum seekers in our midst.

Three incredible college students recounted their personal journeys of losing friends in school shootings and, for one of them, living in fear of being deported after becoming undocumented as a minor in this country after the death of a parent. They are leading nationwide advocacy efforts around immigration rights and gun violence prevention.

Eric K. Ward, national field director of the Building Democracy Initiative of the Center for New Community and organizer of Which Way Forward, dove into the complex stories behind antisemitism, reminding us that “hate groups organize hate that is already there.” He emphasized that during this historic moment, if we want to successfully combat hate, we must join hands with every vulnerable community whose lives are being assaulted.

Al Sharpton continued the theme of the crossroads we’re in and urged us to do what is uncomfortable, now, and to work together with the African American community, saying, “We either fight all hate or we are not fighting hate at all.” He reminded us about how Jews and African Americans have collaborated to fight for injustice and human rights over the years, and how we must remain united.

Finally, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reminded us that America’s heart is full of love, and that no one demonstrates this more with value and actions than the RAC.

Toward the end of the session we learned about important changes to RAC initiatives. Two years ago, congregations including TBE, signed a Brit Olam around the RAC’s Urgency of Now Campaign, focused primarily around immigration rights and racial justice.

This year the RAC will establish collaborative cohorts for issues including racial justice, gun violence, climate and environmental justice, immigration, and reproductive justice. The latter cohort will be possible with support from Women of Reform Judaism.

We invite you to be part of the conversation about how TBE will participate in this RAC initiative. Please contact Aleeza Hoffert at if you are interested in learning more.

We also encourage you to learn more about the RAC’s advocacy and activism and to join us in two years for the next Consultation on Conscience. We promise it will be worth your time!

Attend the Know Your Rights Training to Help Those Needing Sanctuary

By Erica Serlin, Lynn Silverman, and Marta Karlov, Co-Chairs, Urgency of Now Immigrant Rights Action Team

We invite you to an excellent upcoming training by the Dane Sanctuary Coalition (DSC) on June 30, 2:00–4:00 pm, in the Frank Adult Lounge at Temple Beth El. You will learn about the legal rights of undocumented immigrants and how to protect those rights when providing assistance to individuals in sanctuary. Two experienced presenters, Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, an attorney, president of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, and chair of the DSC Community Resource Team, and Ruthanne Landsness, a member of the DSC Steering Committee and Orchard Ridge congregation, will be talking about what to do if an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer demands entry at a sanctuary site, showing two brief videos, and answering your questions.

All are welcome, including those who have already attended a similar training and would like a refresher course. This training is required for individuals who plan to volunteer on site at a sanctuary host congregation. Light refreshments will be served.

We hope you’ll come to learn and to meet other people from TBE as well as congregants from other faith communities who are interested in supporting this important work! Please RSVP to Erica Serlin at

Reflections on Confirmation

By Alison Miller and Bill Kinsey

We were moved to our very core by seeing nine young adults at their confirmation yesterday. These students went through their b’nai mitzvah process three years ago and have now taken individual responsibility for this next level of expressing their Judaism. It was a beautiful and stirring service and we are excited to share our feelings about it with you.

These students worked together to create a Saturday morning Shabbat service. They each personally wrote a part of the service and expressed it in their own words. Confirmation falls on Shavuot, when God gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. With vigor and energy each student read Torah and as a collective group recited the 10 commandments in both English and Hebrew. We were amazed to see the extent by which they exerted their growing involvement in this Shabbat morning service. Their smiles radiated across the congregation. They were laughing together, supporting one another through hugs and fist bumps and connected as they progressed through the service.

Another special aspect of yesterday’s service was how the students chose to double this Confirmation service with a Bar Mitzvah for one of the other students who never celebrated becoming a bar mitzvah when he turned 13. It was beautiful for the student who was celebrating his bar mitzvah individually, but it was also a great example of the group caring for one another as a Jewish community. This confirmation class learned the importance of doing a mitzvah for someone else.

As a parent I particularly identified with Rabbi Biatch’s message to the students that their choice on this Saturday morning was to confirm their commitment to Judaism rather than conforming to the pressures of their teen years. Witnessing to choose Jewish study at age 16 was inspirational as a parent. These nine amazing teenagers choose to invest their time, their creativity and their passion and confirmed their commitment to taking these ideals into adulthood.

When I think of the Jewish people on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah from God they must have been totally present in the moment. You can see radical commitment in the faces of these nine teens that will live forever on the wall at Temple Beth El.

Offering Insight into Infamous Mothers

Bobbie Malone

Those fortunate enough to have attended the Social Action Shabbat last month were amply rewarded with the compelling and impassioned presentation of the guest speaker, Sagashus Levingston, author of Infamous Mothers: Women Who’ve Gone through the Belly of Hell . . . and Brought Something Good Back. The book became an affecting play at the Bartell Theatre that delivered sellout performances. Many of us were intrigued, so I interviewed Sagashus to learn more of her story. She moved to Madison from the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago about 13 years ago to pursue an MA in African American studies and a PhD in American literature. But she was not a typical graduate student. She was a single mother whose sixth child was born shortly after she became a dissertator. The circumstances of wrestling with mothering and studying were simultaneously challenging and motivating.

With research that focused on feminism and activism, Sagashus found that the academic literature lacked the voices of women like herself—mothers who were both seen as “reprehensible” while also making a positive impact on society. While a grad student, she worked on curriculum development for UW–Madison’s Odyssey Junior project to help children of color and poverty improve their reading and writing ability and encourage their higher educational goals. In so doing, she encountered women in the adult Odyssey program whose voices and stories were perfectly aligned with stories she was already collecting from mothers: those who had been seen as “setting feminism back” by making the choices they had made. Sagashus wanted to make sure that their stories made it into the archives of academia.

Realizing that such stories “could be used to invite conversation,” she worked with a photographer and designer to create a conscious juxtaposition between the handsome crafting of Infamous Mothers as a coffee-table book and the very raw stories of the women depicted within it, told in their own words. Sagashus collected these accounts from mothers she encountered in Madison and those with whom she grew up in Bronzeville, including her own mother and her aunts. She sought to emphasize the contrast between the rawness of the stories and the beauty of the storytellers in order to “interrupt the preexisting rhetoric.” The faces of these women more often are seen in mug shots and on the news with their hair sticking up, caught at their most vulnerable moments. Sagashus wanted photographs that represented how these women would like to be seen, to confront preconceived perceptions quickly and unexpectedly.

Sagashus crowd-funded the self-publishing of the book even before completing her dissertation, in which the stories figured prominently. Meant to be more “informative” than “a good read,” the book itself has a pedagogical component: to build community around issues and topics. Social justice is important to her; she grew up with a mother who was a community organizer and activist. Sagashus ingested her mother’s approach and similarly responds to what needs to be done.

Once the Infamous Mothers project ended, the women with whom Sagashus worked wanted to keep going, and although she could see “that they wanted me to be some sort of bridge,” she wasn’t sure how to play that role. Her determination to build that bridge led her to become an entrepreneur in the for-profit venture known as Infamous Mothers University (IMU). Sagashus chose the for-profit route because she did not want to compete with nonprofits in the community that she provided programming for, but ultimately, she wanted to have the financial means to extend their capacity. She has found great support working with the Doyenne Group, a Madison- and Milwaukee-based organization that supports women from all backgrounds as entrepreneurs in both launching and further developing their businesses.

Similarly, IMU works to help women build mothering practices that honor who they are both privately and publicly, whether they are entering the workplace or moving up the career ladder. That support helps them balance the challenges of managing both family and career. IMU simultaneously provides diversity, equity, and inclusion workshops to corporations aware of the needs of the working mothers they employ. Sagashus hopes that IMU will become the link between what the nonprofits do for the women and the wider world into which they are moving without that support system.

Currently, Sagashus is engaged in producing a documentary that, in part, focuses on the incarceration of women. She’s interested not only in their experiences in jail or in prison but also in the ripple effect of those experiences on parenting, housing, and employment. The documentary will also deal with women associated with incarcerated partners, and the responsibilities that these mothers have to handle as temporarily single parents.

Because she successfully crowd-funded the publication of Infamous Mothers, she plans to crowd-fund the documentary as well, with the launch planned for June 20. Sagashus likes the community created by crowd-funding and believes that such wide-based support and buy-in is crucial to her effort to build a company that intentionally works to address such social issues as these: the maternal wall, the achievement and opportunity gaps, and the pay gap.

As the mission of IMU is to own its place as an education and media company that produces products and services “for women who mother from the edge,” Sagashus hopes to fulfill the very rigorous certification process that allows the company to be listed as a Certified B Corporation. This new business model balances “purpose and profit” by considering the way business decision-making affects “workers, suppliers, community, and the environment.” Her determination to build IMU in such a fashion reflects Sagashus’s determination to better the lives of mothers.

Help Needed with Meals at Healing House

Social Justice Spotlight

Imagine you are homeless, being treated for cancer, are a mother with small children, and have just been released from the hospital after surgery. You may be given hotel vouchers for three to five days, so you have a place to recuperate, but you have no meals, no childcare, no way to get medication follow-up or medical attention, and no way to get to follow-up appointments.

The Healing House, a program of Madison-Area Urban Ministry (MUM), is the response to this problem. This eight-bed facility, which recently opened at 303 Lathrop Street in Madison, provides 24/7 recuperative care by medically trained staff and volunteers for up to 28 days. It is the first medical respite program of its kind in Wisconsin and provides care to families who are homeless and have an immediate family member in need of ongoing medical care during recovery. The Healing House will provide clients with three meals a day, childcare assistance, and case management to end the cycle of homelessness. It is a cost-effective alternative for hospitals and the community, promoting wellness for homeless families in Dane County. Nationwide, there are 63 medical respite programs, a proven model of care.

As an interfaith organization, MUM is responding to the call across faith traditions to care for the sick. In Judaism, bikur cholim (Hebrew for “visiting the sick”) includes a wide range of activities that include providing comfort and support for people who are ill. Bikur cholim is a mitzvah, a moral and spiritual obligation.

The Healing House is partnering with The Road Home for case management and volunteer assistance. Temple Beth El has partnered with both MUM and The Road Home in the past, and therefore it seemed natural for us to continue that partnership by volunteering with the Healing House. Volunteers are being asked to assist with dinner by cooking and dropping off meals and by serving and cleaning up after dinner at the house. Volunteers will also shop for grocery items for breakfast and lunch. Sign up to help with this mitzvah at

TBE Sisterhood and Social Justice

Linda Reivitz

The Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) mission statement says, in part, that Temple Sisterhoods will advocate for and promote progressive Jewish values.

TBE Sisterhood tries to achieve that goal in a variety of ways. For many years, we have provided assistance to women and children in temporary residence at the YWCA. We have supported those receiving services because of domestic abuse. This year we collected donations of feminine products to help those in need at the Grace Episcopal Shelter. We provided new socks for men, women, and children who are served by Madison’s homeless shelters. We donated graham crackers, juice boxes, and other snacks for the kids at Emerson School. Members of the Sisterhood also tutored some of those students. We collected cleaning supplies for homeless families who recently moved into their own homes. And we joined with others from TBE to make lunches for the kids so they would have food during the Madison schools' spring break.

It is a mitzvah for our Sisterhood members to help those who are less fortunate than we are, and we continue to take this task seriously.

Social Action Volunteer Opportunities

Social Justice Spotlight

Do you have some free time? We have lots of great opportunities to help out in our community.

  • Wednesday, May 30: Shop, bake, cook, or serve dinner for the Porchlight Shelter Program. Sign up at

  • Sunday, June 30: Attend the Dane Sanctuary Coalition’s Know Your Rights training, hosted by TBE. This training is one of the steps required to be able to help out anyone in sanctuary through the Dane Sanctuary Coalition, of which TBE is a proud member. Learn more at

  • June 16–22: Help provide meals and friendship at the Healing House. Sign up at

  • This summer, join our group of dedicated tutors helping children from the refugee family supported by TBE volunteers and Jewish Social Services. Contact Sherie Sondel for more information at

  • Any time, at your convenience: Scrapbookers wanted! Are you good with design and decoration? Able to post the occasional poster or photo? The Social Action Committee bulletin board by the office is sadly neglected and needs some love. Contact Marcia Vandercook at—you will be surprised at the level of heartfelt appreciation you receive!


Temple Beth El Confirmation Class: Working to Make a Difference

Michelle Gustafson

As a teacher in the Temple Beth El Jewish education program, I have had the privilege of knowing a great many thoughtful, smart, and caring young people. This year’s Confirmation Class is no exception. As they prepare for their ceremony in June, it has become clear that these students care about extending their own personal Jewish experiences, but the focus goes beyond solely their own interests.

Like many confirmation classes, this is a group who has known each other for years, studying together in religious school, experiencing each others’ b’nai mitzvah, and supporting each other throughout. I’m proud to say that I have known all these students for many years, and they are truly remarkable.

The confirmation ceremony is very special to the Beth El community. Its intention is to commemorate the Jewish life these students have chosen to live, a life that extends beyond b’nai mitzvah, typically at age 13. These young people are currently students at Midrasha, or they work at Beth El in the religious school program as madrichim. Still others are completing independent study into Jewish life, or they hold leadership positions within our Temple Youth Group.

Regardless of the many ways that qualify them, what is common about all of these students is their incredible empathy. During a day-long retreat, as a group this class decided that their confirmation ceremony would include the bar mitzvah of one of their classmates who had yet to celebrate this simcha. In addition, their class gift to Beth El, a bowl & pitcher for washing, speaks to the students’ sympathy for mourners who enter Temple and interest in caring for them with this meaningful gesture.

Temple Beth El’s Confirmation ceremony is a choice we give our teenagers to make. When asked to explain why they chose to participate in this ceremony that celebrates the continuation of their Jewish lives, this is how some of the students responded:

”It shows everyone how awesome we are.”--Ben Gustafson

“Confirmation allows me to feel connected to my faith and my peers in a meaningful way.”--Zoe Byer-Wein

“It [preparation for Confirmation, to include a day-long retreat] has been a great experience for all of us, because we have all known each other for a very long time, and we all want to continue our Jewish path together.”--Ian Staresinic

I believe Ian’s comment states it best: our community’s future must care for each other in order to take care of themselves. Jewish values of tikkun olam and tzedakah are being lived through the example of this confirmation class.

TBE Confirmation Class of 5779

Zoe Byer-Wein
Ben Daly
Ari Greenlee
Benny Gustafson
Jessie Kahn
Aviva Kinsey
Ben Magenheim
Nikko Schneiderman
Ian Staresinic

Update from Eastern Europe - Day 6 - Auschwitz

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

Our Visit to Auschwitz

The gloominess of this day matched our mood and our feelings about being in Auschwitz, near to the city of Krakow, Poland. Together, Auschwitz and Birkeneau concentration camps make up approximately one and a half to two square miles of area, and we saw the museum and some of the hundreds of old, dilapidated, and non-existent barracks for the prisoners.

These camps exterminated approximately 1.1 million people, and they have served as an icon of the Holocaust. We spent approximately 3 and 1/2 hours touring the museum, 2 and 1/2 hours seeing only parts of the massive prisoner camp, also with its decaying gas Chambers and crematoria.

One question to be debated is whether one should maintain and restore, perhaps, this camp, or whether it should be let to deteriorate further and have the Earth reclaim it. We guess that the answer has to do with the purpose of what we call memory. Does memory serve to bring us emotions and feelings only, or does it also serve to teach humanity lessons about the future?

These questions and others will be debated for many years, and your Rabbi challenges you to wonder about it as well.


Update from Eastern Europe - Days 4 & 5

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

Shavuah tov from Eastern Europe.

Our itinerary this past Friday included major religious sites in the city of Budapest. We visited the cathedral of Saint Stephens, located on the western side of the city, and then we visited to synagogues on the eastern side, one being the very famous Donany orthodox synagogue, the other being Beit Orim (house of lights) synagogue, liberal congregation, where we worshipped on Friday evening.

The Dohany synagogue is more of a museum than a synagogue, though there is a worship group that meets regularly for prayer. The building is beautiful, located in a fashionable part of town, and attracts visitors from around the world.

The Beit Orim congregation is an active thought dying congregation connected to the World Union for Progressive Judaism. The congregation meets on Friday evenings and most Saturday mornings for worship and Torah study, and uses the building of the local Jewish community center. Our group was warmly welcomed into this congregation on Friday evening, and Rabbi Raj (pronounced ‘roy’) invited me to offer a few impromptu words to his congregation. The service lasted about one hour and 15 minutes long, and we enjoyed a beautiful and festive Oneg Shabbat afterwards.

Because of the political squabbles between the different parts of the local Jewish community, this congregation is dying and may not survive another year. The Orthodox community receives most if not all government funding for religious institutions, and, as the way things go, does not share much with the progressive community. At some point I will speak about this issue. But suffice to say that this is a fractured Jewish community.

Saturday, We drove to the city of Kraków, Poland, to prepare ourselves to meet members of the Jewish community there, tour the concentration camp complex of Auschwitz and Birkenau, and continued to learn more about the Jewish experience in Poland and eastern Europe.

Update from Eastern Europe - Day 3 - Budapest

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

Shoes. Seventy-two pairs of bronzed shoes on the shore of the Danube River in Budapest.

And this is how many of the Jews, numbering between 2500 and 10000, were murdered by the Nazis in 1944 and 1945 before the end of the war. They were brought to the river, told to remove their shoes, and then were summarily shot and their bodies pushed into the flowing water.

This stunning memorial, dedicated in 2005, is one way that the Hungarian government is trying to properly remember and venerate the victims of the Holocaust who were killed at this spot. Primarily but not entirely Jews, the victims had no opportunity for defense, no opportunity for trials for evaluation. They simply died because they were Jews.

Thus began our stay in Budapest, Hungary. Today, in a constant drizzle, we toured the city seeing many of the sites that distinguishes this place following the fall of communism: a former secret police building turned into a hotel, former Soviet offices turned into apartments and museum spaces, and a burgeoning recognition of the role of Hungary in the Holocaust.

Such recognition spreads among the people. In fact, this evening, during dinner, a pianist in the restaurant where we dined played a selection of Jewish tunes. Now, it is likely that such a concert was offered because they knew that there were 19 Jews dining there. Be that as it may, there are many recognitions of the Jewish presence in this city around, and on Friday, we hope to visit the famous Dohany Synagogue, the largest synagogue building in the European continent. it is quite the tourist spot and destination. We will also learn more about Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved an estimated 120,000 Hungarian Jews.

We will also visit a liberal Jewish synagogue for Shabbat evening services, followed by a meal with one or more of its members. We will be fortunate to learn about the various controversies regarding both hungary's president orban and the internal disputes among members of the Jewish community of Hungary.

Stay tuned for more. We are thinking of you as we travel through Eastern Europe.

Update from Eastern Europe - Day 2 - Terezin

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

Wednesday May 8, Our Day in Terezin

Our bus traveled an hour north of Prague to the concentration camp named Terezin. This place is a former military fortress that served as a “model” concentration camp the Nazis used to conceal the horrors of the Final Solution.

The springtime scenery is patterned with fields of canola plants, the bright yellow petals that you see in the photo. The beauty and calm of that country ride was shadowed by the infamy of Terezin as a place where hundreds of thousands of people died during the Holocaust.

Formerly a walled army garrison built in the late 1700’s and then called Theresienstadt, it was intended to protect bridges over the nearby Ohre and Elbe Rivers from military attack, and its citadel and castle structure once housed more than 5,000 soldiers in preparation for war. Oddly enough, the fortress never came under military attack.

In the mid-1800’s, it became a prison, and then specifically a military prison during WW I. It was not until the Nazi invasion of this region, known as the Sudetenland (because many ethnic Germans lived there), that the area came under the interest of the Gestapo to create a concentration camp on that site. From 1939-1941, there was much construction work to accommodate the thousands of inmates that they anticipated coming there.

The most shocking facet of Terezin is its history as a “model” concentration camp. The Nazis shielded from the world their Final Solution by enabling the International Red Cross (ICRC) to inspect the camp and see how ‘pleasant’ life was for those interned there. The Jewish inmates were forced to create counterfeit social and intellectual lives consisting of concerts and orchestras, soccer leagues and matches, lectures and other aspects of a ‘normal’ life only for the benefit of the ICRC’s visit. The reality is that more than 33,000 people died in the town from population density, disease, and malnutrition. Terezin is preserved today as a museum and living reminder of the terrors of the Holocaust, and a memorial to those who lived and died there.

Full capacity of the town of Terezin is around 6,000, yet at times there were more than 60,000 Jews of  various ages living there. That is the reason that so many people died from malnutrition and disease.

At the site there are two large cemeteries, each honoring both the Jewish and non-Jewish victims of the Nazi war machines. There is also a crematorium where the Nazis destroyed the sacred vessels/bodies of Jews and others who had died.

This was a somber day for us who visited this place today. Oddly enough, our visit today took place on the anniversary of the victory over the Nazis in Europe, which was May 8, 1945

An Update from the Eastern Europe Trip - Day 1 - Prague

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

I am writing to you from Prague where out journey to discover Jewish heritage and history, as well as future configurations of the Jewish communal life here.

The flights were smooth and easy, with very little turbulence.

After meeting our tour operator Jerry at the Prague airport, we immediately began our touring of the general sites of this medieval and modern city. The horizon consists of old and new construction, and the local economy continues to be strong.

We toured the 12th century cathedral in the middle of the town, the current presidential mansion, the gigantic town square filled with tourists - it must be Spring break - and then to dinner at a local restaurant, we all went to bed exhausted and ready to visit Terezin, the so-called “model” concentration camp which the Nazis used to hide the camps true purpose. Among others, the International Committee of the Red Cross, in 1943 was famously fooled by the Nazi propaganda about a place where thousands of children died or were killed.

The medieval character of Prague mixes in nicely with modern day except when it comes to crowded traffic conditions and lack of parking spaces. It is simply hard to maneuver in the old city.

The weather was cool and mostly dry today, and we’ll have good weather also tomorrow. The group is getting to know one another, and it’s a very good group of people. More to come tomorrow.

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

Social Action Volunteer Opportunities

Social Justice Spotlight

Do you have some free time? We have lots of great opportunities to help out in our community.

  • On Tuesday, April 30, you can help serve families at the Multicultural Dinner at Emerson School (then have some delicious international food yourself!) Sign up at
  • On Wednesday, May 29, you can shop, bake, cook, or serve dinner for the Porchlight Shelter program. Sign up at
  • This summer, join our group of dedicated tutors helping children from the refugee family supported by TBE volunteers and Jewish Social Services. Contact Sherie Sondel at for more information.
  • Any time, at your convenience: Scrapbookers wanted! Are you good with design and decoration? Able to post the occasional poster or photo? The Social Action Committee bulletin board by the office is sadly neglected and needs some love. Contact Marcia Vandercook at—you will be surprised at the level of heartfelt appreciation you receive!

Standing Room Only for “Faith Communities Addressing White Supremacy”

Social Justice Spotlight

On March 24, over 200 concerned and compassionate individuals piled into the Madison Public Library to hear from faith leaders and community organizers about the attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. The audience heard from seven speakers from various faith communities about the need to respond to white supremacy movements around the world and in our own community. Audience members then broke up into small groups to introduce themselves to one another and discuss ways to meet this challenge. The organizers plan to use the results of these small-group circles to create future events and programs. You can follow the progress of this effort here:

Lively Conversation about “Infamous Mothers” at Social Action Shabbat

Social Justice Spotlight

On April 12, the Social Action Committee welcomed Madison author Sagashus Levingston, author of the book Infamous Mothers, to speak at our Social Action Shabbat. Ms. Levingston shared stories from her book about marginalized mothers, reflecting the humanity and value of women who have overcome incredible challenges, including poverty, addiction, and imprisonment. She also talked about her current work supporting women on a long-term basis once they begin to turn their lives around. She offers online support and other services at More than 70 Temple Beth El members attended the dinner and talk, and stayed to ask questions afterward.

Support the Initiative to Offer Driver’s Licenses for All

Social Justice Spotlight

As a member of the Dane Sanctuary Coalition and a signatory to the Union for Reform Judaism’s Urgency of Now campaign, Temple Beth El is committed to work for justice for our immigrant brothers and sisters. One important way we can advocate for immigrant rights is to be involved right now in the fight for legal driver’s licenses and state IDs for all Wisconsin residents, regardless of immigration status.

This is not just an issue of justice; it is also an issue of safety and economic sustainability in our state.

Fundamental to living a life of dignity is the ability to take care of yourself and your family. Access to educational opportunities and to employment are necessary in order to achieve that goal. But undocumented immigrants who are barred from obtaining a driver’s license face untenable choices—either forgo education and employment, try to deal with our wholly inadequate public transportation system, or take the risk and drive illegally.

These choices rob people of their dignity, as they rob them of their pathway to a better life.

The Bible teaches us: “You shall have one standard for stranger and citizen alike: for I the Lord am your God” (Leviticus 24:22). Wisconsin needs to have one such standard for the ability to drive for all our residents, regardless of immigration status. Governor Evers’s budget calls for restoration of legal driver’s licenses and state IDs for all, as was the law prior to 2007.

The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is taking public comments right now on the governor’s budget proposal. You can take action now: Contact them at, and also contact your own senator and assembly member at

Please urge your legislators not to take this right away from Wisconsin residents who simply want to drive safely and within the law, to get to school and to work, and to live lives of worth and dignity.

When you send your comments and talk to your legislators, use these talking points (please put them into your own words).

  1. If everyone who wants to drive has access to a legal driver’s license, they will be able to get to school and to work, which helps people succeed in life and adds to our economy.
  2. The ability to get a legal driver’s license means drivers will be more likely to know the rules of the road, which makes us all safer.
  3. Those with legal drivers licenses are more likely to have insurance.
  4. Wisconsin needs to have one standard for the ability to drive for all our residents, regardless of immigration status. It is a matter of justice.

Finally, please come to the Capitol on Wednesday, May 1 at 11:00 am, and join Voces de la Frontera for “A Day Without Latinx and Immigrants.” Learn more at and

Join an Interfaith Iftar (Break the Fast) to Celebrate the Conclusion of Ramadan

Social Justice Spotlight

On May 11 at 7:45 pm, Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice will co-sponsor the third annual interfaith iftar, with Edgewood College and Muslim Women United for Peace. This potluck event takes place at Edgewood College’s Edgedome, 1000 Edgewood College Avenue. Please bring a dish to share (please no pork, shellfish, or alcohol), and be prepared for an evening of fun, learning, and fellowship!

To RSVP, sign up to bring a dish, and/or volunteer to help out, please go to This event is free and open to the public.


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