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Mitzvah Day: The Power of 160 Volunteers

06/28/2023 10:53:33 AM


Mitzvah Day

In April, Mitzvah Day returned to Temple Beth El, led by our co-chairs, Lynn Renner, Staci Rieder, and Linda Reivitz, with staff support from Aleeza Hoffert and the help of many project leaders. The building was abuzz with activity, as young families brought their children and longtime members worked side by side with old friends.

Over 160 people of all ages volunteered for Mitzvah Day. We cooked hundreds of meals, tied blankets and knit hats, built shelves and cleaned kitchens, sent letters of appreciation to first responders, and hosted a Social Justice Fair in the Weinstein Community Court.

How TBE members supported our community:

  • We had 160 registered volunteers, plus more showing up to help that day.
  • Members donated bags full of diapers, toiletries, food, school supplies, and yarn, along with $832 to help purchase supplies.
  • We swabbed the cheeks of nine potential bone marrow donors and shared information with many others.
  • We turned out 45 volunteers of all ages to work outside on a cold blustery day. We cleaned up and spread mulch at Beit Olamim cemetery, readied garden beds at Goodman Community Center, picked up at garbage at Wingra Park, and helped at the Arboretum.
  • We prepared 340 meals for future dinners at the Catholic Multicultural Center and did a spring cleaning of their building.
  • Our knitters made 14 items, including hats, dishcloths, and small creatures for children’s library reading programs. We also formed a new TBE knitting group!
  • We made 26 gift baskets for distribution at a Mother’s Day program for FOSTER, a case management program for parents.
  • To help hospitalized children, we made 30 meals at Ronald McDonald House and tied 27 fleece blankets for Project Linus.
  • Children and parents made cards for first responders through Operation Gratitude and wrote pen pal letters to children in Israel.
  • We supported 6 nonprofit community organizations at our Social Justice Fair. 
  • We also gave manicures and hand massages to residents at Capitol Lakes, sorted and bundled diapers for delivery to the Village Diaper Bank, and built bookshelves and assembled yard signs for the GSAFE LGBTQ+ youth program.
  • Adamah and the Great Dane donated a delicious lunch for 101 students and their families, and Sam and Roger Brown donated Rocky Rococo pizza for 40 people at dinner.

Additional photos from Mitzvah Day:

Temple Beth El's Trip to Israel

06/13/2023 08:18:40 AM


Check back here for updates and pictures on the Israel trip led by Rabbi Biatch and Cantor Niemi

June 22, 2023

Our last full day of Israel brought us to the Jaffa Institute, a non-profit organization whose goal is to break the cycle of poverty within the Israeli society. They work with families with children, ensuring that they have nutritious meals and an opportunity to study using internet and other contemporary learning tools.

From a warehouse in the city of Jaffa, there are more than 40 institutions all over the country which intervene with children at risk, Holocaust survivors, refugees, and migrants. After hearing about their goals and mission from their development director, our group packed boxes of food destined for homes with food insufficiency. We assembled 24 boxes, each box containing approximately 25 items, which would have helped for 4 to 7 Days of food needs in the home.

Following our time at the Jaffa institute, some people walked through the city of Jaffa which is a mixed Jewish and Arab city, and other people returned to the hotel for an afternoon of free time. In addition to shopping, there was swimming in the hotel pool, bathing in the Mediterranean Sea just directly next to our hotel, sleeping and relaxing.

In the evening, we attended a farewell dinner to all members of our group at the Maganda restaurant, a Yemenite institution in Tel Aviv for more than 40 years. We offered gratitude to our guide and our driver, and the group gave many toasts to our travelers and our leaders who experienced something extraordinary these past 9 days. Tomorrow morning, we look forward to going to the airport and departing around noon. there are some members of our group who are traveling at different times, and we wish everyone a safe voyage home.

June 21, 2023

This morning, we awoke to a beautiful television sunrise, in the city that never seems to sleep. At least, that is its reputation. We were able to sleep in a little bit later and began our day with a panel discussion regarding the Palestinian Internship Program. 

This is a non-profit organization, with that designation specifically in Israel and in the United states, that helps members of the Palestinian community who are entrepreneurs to learn how to improve their business acumen and to engage in mentoring programs that increase their possibility of success. 

This program builds on business to business, and people to people, relationships. It is not supported by any government yet has been very successful in training Palestinian entrepreneurs. We heard from the executive director of this organization, one of her primary staff people in program development, and one successful graduate who lives on the West Bank and yet comes to Tel Aviv to participate in this program. 

Following this panel, we drove to Rothschild boulevard which was the center of Tel Aviv at the time of the state's independence war in 1948. We learned about the development of the initial neighborhoods of Tel Aviv outside of the city of Jaffa, and we saw Independence hall, the location of the signing of the declaration of independence, which we could not visit as it was under renovation and reconstruction.

For our lunch, we walked through the Carmel market and had special Yemenite treats including sabich and falafel. 

For the early part of our afternoon, we spoke with someone from Rainbow Tel Aviv, an organization that orients people to the LGBTQ community here. We learned that an estimated 30% of the population of Tel Aviv are members of the LGBTQ community. We learned of the difficulty of living in Israel, where prejudice against queer people runs high in the religious community, and ignorance is also part of the dynamic. However, services for LGBTQ people in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem exist to help the community.

Our evening tonight was free, with people seeing relatives, friends, and going out to local restaurants.

June 20, 2023

Today, June 20th, was quieter day at Kibbutz Ma'agan, our temporary home for the time we spent in the northern part of Israel. We departed the hotel at 8:30 a.m. and traveled the one hour and 15 minutes up into the Western Galilee hills to visit the town of Tzfat; this name by the way is a one syllable word in case you were wondering. Tzfat is the home of 16th century Jewish mystical practice and studies and remains a place where Jewish mysticism mixes with commercial art and tourism, and forms a beautiful community. Tzfat is a place where people come to find themselves.  

In Tzfat, we were hosted by Rabbi Tamara Shfirin, rabbi of a Reform synagogue in Rishon L'tziyon. Rabbi Shfirin grew up in and Orthodox household yet was forever stymied by the lack of egalitarianism. She later broke away from her family's heritage, graduated rabbinical School in the reform seminary in Jerusalem, and became a scholar of Jewish mysticism. She took us around the community today, showing us three primary homes of Jewish mystical thought, that is, three different synagogues where individuals made the difference in bringing mysticism to light. 

One of her main points was that, in every generation, reform occurs within Judaism and that which was once new may become old yet still needs to be venerated. She made the point that Jewish mysticism and Jewish mystical practices can be learned and studied and experienced, and that people need to be given the latitude to study and not be thought of as simply those in search of personal spiritual experiences. After a 2-hour tour of the town and its mystical roots, we had an hour for lunch. The day’s weather was in the low 80s, yet the sun's direct rays was quite warm on us. After an hour of lunching and shopping, we were all ready to get back on the bus for our 2-hour drive to Tel Aviv. 

We found, along the way, that our bus seems to have been having an air conditioning problem. Every once in a while, our driver needed to stop the bus and reset all of the functions. Then it cooperated for a while and we had to repeat the process. Not so terrible, but as we entered the frantic, frenetic, and start and stop traffic of Tel Aviv, it became a little worrisome. But, not to worry, buses can be repaired, and our travel group understood that flexibility, having a sense of humor, and having patience all go a long way in helping to improve one's experience.  

As we entered Tel Aviv, we immediately recognized the diverse nature of the city, though we will visit with representatives of the LGBTQ+ community tomorrow, We headed toward the neighborhood of Nachalat Binyamin, one of the few areas of first settlement outside of the tel Aviva center. In this neighborhood, there is on Tuesdays and Fridays a street art fair and we were given the time to shop for original art pieces and speak to the artisans. We then returned to check in at our hotel, Herods, where our group greeted one another and enjoyed one another's company until it was time for supper. Then individual groups found their way to restaurants or across the bike path to the beach, and people enjoyed a lovely evening on our own in North Tel Aviv adjacent to the beach. 

June 19, 2023
Many of us were up early and watched as the sun rose above the Golan heights, just above the kibbutz hotel where we are staying. The sun rose at about 6:00 a.m., even though it had risen earlier and was already shining on the city of Tiberius directly across the lake from us. There is something about this region, it's warm breezes here about 650 ft below sea level and the surrounding hills, that simply creates a beautiful place to spend a few days.

Today was a day of fun and some relaxing. In the morning, we traveled from the southern tip of the Kinneret to the far northeastern edge of the Golan Heights, right next to the kibbutz named M'rom Golan and the former Syrian city of Kuneitra. At this vista point, at a coffee shop and overlook called Coffee Anan ('anan' being translated as 'clouds', and it’s a pun on the name of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan),  we learned about the strategic importance of the Golan heights, the success of the 1967 six day war, the failures and lack of confidence emanating out of the Yom Kippur war in 1973 and the continuing self-evaluation that Israel goes through about how and how much of this territory to maintain. One of the most impressive things about this location is how close it is to the borders of Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. No one in our group was terribly anxious about being at this border, which was described to Us by our guides as being one of the most peaceful borders in the world. 

Following lunch, we drove back down from the Golan Heights into the lowlands surrounding the Hula valley. We came to an attraction where we could either have a wine tasting or a session in chocolate making, and our group divided about 50-50% for each of these attractions. I think wine connoisseurs would not have been pleased from the selections, and those who know about chocolate were been happier :-).  

After this tasting and making of chocolates, we continued traveling south and found a place where we went rafting on the Jordan River. It likely was the Dan River but there would be no point in quibbling over this identifier. The route was approximately 5 km long, and on the river with us for hundreds of teenagers, and some older people as well, who were having a wonderful day. The river at this point was ahout 25-30 feel wide, and mostly about three feet in depth. There were also large rocks along the riverbed, which posed a problem to those who were steering the boat.

June 18, 2023

Happy Father's Day to all people on our trip who our fathers, who had fathers, and/or who think of their fathers for whatever reason at any time.  

This morning we left Jerusalem and traveled in the direction of Tel Aviv. We passed through a neighborhood in Jerusalem called Revhavia, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Jerusalem, a place where former prime ministers and presidents have lived. 

In pulling out of the city, we traveled West on Highway 1, then traveled North on Highway 6 toward and to the city of Caesaria, this home of King Herod that was built by the sea in central Israel.  

Everyone would love to have a house on the ocean, and this egotistical and megalomaniacal ruler was no exception. He built a palace, a hippodrome, an amphitheater, and many other pastimes to please him. The town of Caesaria was home to King Herod, the Romans who conquered him afterward, Byzantines, Crusaders, Muslims, and a constant stream of others who built upon the ruins of Caesaria one generation after another. 

Today, excavations mark this site as they continue to unearth treasures from the past and archaeologists try to discover what lies beneath the surface. We are told that the amphitheater in Caesaria is home to contemporary music festivals and shows throughout the year. If someone has truly made it in Israel, they will have appeared here. It is a beautiful location, and the weather today was exquisite, being around 80 degrees with a constant 10 to 15 mph wind off the ocean. 

We then traversed the rest of the Highway 6 between Caesaria and the Israeli city of Haifa, There we visited the Bahai shrine and learned a little bit about this religion. We viewed their world famous gardens, then continued up the coast to the city of Acco. The ancient city of Acco, also built layer upon layer, begins with ruins that they have discovered, from the Hellenistic period. This was followed by  

Byzantine, Crusade, Muslim, Ottoman, British, and then Israeli. The ancient city contains today a large and ample marketplace, jewelry and art dealers, and stores selling everything one can imagine. These stores serve the general population of the area. To present modern history, there is a special museum dedicated to activities of pre-independence Israel. Acco served as a British prison where captured and suspected Israeli spies were tortured and killed.

While in the ancient city of Akko, we visited an artist studio called Art 192. This is a cooperative effort run by 10 women who jointly create art, staff the store and performance business, and worry about every aspect and detail of their enterprise. Individually and alone, none of these women would be able to succeed in the art world. But together, as they have joined forces it is easy to see how they can thrive and produce and sell their art.  

Edna introduced us to her cooperative and related stories about the difficulty they have had in getting started. On the day we visited, it was the 4 1/2 year birthday of their work together, and she recounted one or two stories. Specifically, she told us of the time when, two years ago, they were Arab riots in the streets and cities of Israel, because many of the Arabs in Israel lost confidence in the security forces to treat them well and safely in light of the emotions that were elicited in light of tit-for-tat attacks and recriminations. 

There seem to be very few Jewishly owned businesses in the Old City, but these women have developed good relationships with their neighbors, who protected their studio during these riots. They could not enter the city to check on it. But they realized that their Arab neighbors had checked on it for them, had give them reports by phone about it, and had assured them that no one would attack the store as they had other stores in the immediate neighborhood. They owe their success and patience to the goodness of their Arab neighbors, and this is likely a good example of coexistence in this mixed city. Finally, we took a walking tour of some of the underground archaeological discoveries, including the barracks of the Crusaders, and the work yard and execution chamber used by the British who, in the mid-1930s and 1940s, executed prisoners and performed tortures. 

When concluding our time in Acco, we boarded the bus for the 75 minute ride to our hotel, Ma’agan Eden, located near the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee. 

 June 17, 2023

Shabbat shalom. After having awoken and taken our 6:00 a.m. stroll this morning and after a delicious breakfast, we boarded our bus and traveled to the Dead Sea valley. Our first stop, on this first day of a very uncomfortable heatwave here, was the mountain called Masada. Click here for a website that will  tell you a little bit about Masada

Our guide took us to the top of the mountain via the cable car, and shared with us information about the north palace, the Western palace, the synagogues, the bath houses, and even the latrines. These were initially constructed by Herod the Great, the Israelite King, the last of his line, who served under the Roman occupation and who died in the year 4 BCE. Herod collaborated with the Roman government, hoping to maintain power and his lifestyle. Eventually, Masada, his winter home, fell into disuse and disrepair and nothing was done to the mountain after his death. About 75 years later, 970 Jewish zealots moved up to Masada, including men women and children, and they defied the Roman government by not surrendering when the rest of the nation did. For 3 years, they were able to resist the occupying forces, creating a completely independent life in the desert. Eventually, Rome was going to destroy the people on the mountain and, on hearing this, the Israelites on Masada decided that it would be better for them to kill themselves than be taken as servants and slaves to Rome. 

The majority of the accounts of their deaths were recorded by Josephus Flavius, and Israelite and Roman commander who left his command for the writing of history. Although exaggerated, he wrote of the fall of Masada as being important in the life of the nation of israel.  

In the 1950s, Israelis were loathed to use the image of Israel as a weak power, recoiling somewhat from the defeat at the Holocaust and the subsequent dissolution of the community. Instead, they constituted the story of Masada as a symbol of Jewish power and resistance even in the face of certain death. 

Following our experience in Masada, we traveled to Ein Bokek, a resort by the Dead sea. After a buffet lunch, members of our group swam in the Dead Sea or in the salt and freshwater pools, took advantage of some of the spa amenities, and enjoyed themselves. On the way back to Jerusalem we stopped at Ein Gedi, one of the few freshwater sources in the Dead Sea valley. While there, Rabbi Jonathan celebrated his wedding anniversary by treating the group to ice cream treats. 

We returned to Jerusalem at about 6:00 p.m. participated in a ceremony of Havdalah, and then people were able to spend the evening as they liked. About eight members of our group attended the weekly demonstration, this evening taking place at the residence of Israel's president. The main message of tonight was, to the president, that although they appreciate his willingness to search for a compromise, the demonstrators, meaning the organizers, express the feeling that there is no compromise when it comes to the Democratic nature of a society. They were very intent on getting this message across, both to the president and to the prime minister tonight.  

We returned to our hotel for an evening of packing and preparing to leave tomorrow for our tour of the northern part of Israel. 

Shavuah tov. 

June 16, 2023

Today in Israel we rose early and traveled across Jerusalem to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum. One can spend no less than two-and-a-half hours here, as the permanent exhibit of the background, history, process and results of the Holocaust consist of panels after panels of crucial historical texts. Taken as a whole, the collection of the museum presents an honest and difficult assessment of the role of German and its allies in executing up to seven million Jews and another 5-6 million Roma, Catholics, LGBTQ+ individuals, and other so called genetic non-desirables. 

We also toured the Children’s Memorial, wherein a million flames—corresponding to the number of children killed—light up a darkened tower of mirrors, accompanied by a reading of the names of the victims. 

Following our time at Yad Vashem, we traveled by the relatively new light rail train to Machaneh Yehudah, a grand open air market in the Jewish section of the Western side of Jerusalem. The sights and smells of the city are on grand display here, as fresh fruit and vegetables, housewares, and Israeli street food can be found in a small but very crowded part of the city. 

After a discussion led by Abraha Avner, a former Mossad agent who consults with the film and television industry on matters of spycraft, we went to “Tachanah Rishonah”, Jerusalem’s famed “First (Train) Station which is now a large outdoor mall and entertainment venue. On Friday evenings, it is transformed into a large synagogue that welcomes a band to offer Kabbalat Jerusalem style, and it welcomes more than 400 ‘worshipers’. It was a warm and beautiful evening, and we had a blast. Click here to see video. 

We then returned to the hotel for a Shabbat dinner and evening walks through the quiet city. Shabbat Shalom. 

June 15, 2023

This morning, our TBE group headed down to the lower Judean Hills to the archaeological site named Beit Guvrin, roughly translated as the ‘place of heroes’. This is an active archaeological dig as well as a living museum to the Maccabean settlement of the Second Century BCE.

Our purpose was to enter the dig site named “Samson” (a hard limestone cave about 50 feet under the surface of the hill), to perform some human excavation skills, and to learn about the process of Israeli excavation and preservation of historical places such as this. After some instruction (picture 1 and video) and ‘care instructions’, we began the process of removing perhaps an inch or so of soil in one of the 5,000 caves of this site. It was only one inch because we had limited time and the process of digging is a complex one. We uncovered pottery shards (some large, some small), bones (from food that was consumed at the site), a new step in the spiral stairway that was once dug into the hard limestone, and even bits and pieces of charcoal (demonstrating that cooking took place at this site).

Then we carefully took all of the surface soil to the surface to sift it to ensure we did not find anything further.

Click here to watch video of the dig.

Our next journey was to visit the Ayalon Institute, near the town of Rehovot. This was a secret ammunition factory that ultimately helped the struggling new Israeli state fight its independence war. Located in a building disguised as a kibbutz laundry and bakery, this factory produced, over a three-year period from 1945-1948 (after which it did not need to be kept secret) more than 2.5 million bullets, each one essentially made by scratch and by hand. Luckily, according to the Institute, there were no accidents in the dangerous and arduous process of smuggling the raw materials and the machinery into the fledgling country, stamping, cutting, and shaping the casings, adding and pressing the gun powder, and preparing them for delivery to their front lines. This is to say nothing of keeping the whole process top secret, getting 45 people into and out of the underground factory, maintaining that secrecy, and giving otherwise apparent kibbutz members who were supposed to be working in the fields a tanned appearance.

Finally, or what we thought was finally, we went to the city of Lod, adjacent to the Ben Gurion airport, where we spoke to program people at the local multi-cultural center about relationships in that town between Jews and Arabs.

These relationships do not exist: Seventy percent of the residents are Arabs and 30% are ultra religious Jews who acquired their land and homes very inexpensively. The Jews wish no contact or relationships with the Arabs, preferring to remain in their sequestered community. We spoke to an Arab woman named Hilde who described her personal story of domestic abuse—of many varieties—and how she had survived, and also how she would wish for better relations with Jews but no one from that community has stepped forward to accept her overtures.

We heard also from Rabbi Rinat Shwartz, of V’ahavta – HaKehila Hashivionit Shoham (The Reform Community in Shoham), a town about 15 minutes away by car, who also described unfulfilled wishes about coexistence with Arabs, unfulfilled, that is, from the standpoint of trying to get the Lod-based Jews to participate. We also heard from local entrepreneurs trying to bring these sides together.

The relationships between Jews and Arabs, and among Arabs and, for that matter, Jews, are fraught with difficulty, and it was this lack of ability to bring people to simply sit and talk that made our TBE group very frustrated. So much so that we had a meeting after arriving to the hotel tonight about what we can do to be involved in helping. The group decided that there would be engagement and action on our part. More on that later. 

An early Shabbat Shalom!

June 14, 2023
From Rabbi Biatch:

The first morning of our tour began at an early 6:00 am, when Cantor Niemi and Rabbi Biatch took three brave travelers on a walk through the neighborhood of our hotel, Dan Panorama, in Jerusalem. The air is fresh and clean, not yet stained by the pollution of buses and cars, and we walked the seven minutes to the Montefiore Windmill.

The traveling day consisted of a stop at the Haas Promenade, an overlook at the southern end of the Old City walls from the long walk through the Old City (the Walled city) of Jerusalem.

It is amazing to see people who have not visited these areas get excited by the Jewish sights and sounds of the land and its language. From the Western Wall to the Temple Mount to the walled city’s many gates, this place has something for everyone.

Later on we visited the City of David, a massive archaeological dig that begins just south of the old city’s southern border. It is a site of great promise (as people uncover more information about Israel’s past; and of great complexity as the dig frequently disrupts life in the Palestinian village of Silwan.

We ate dinner in beautiful view of the walls of the Old City, and we heard from one of the staff people at the Israel Religious Action Canter. He described their work and how it can benefit the Democracy movement in Israel.

June 12, 2023
After two uneventful and pleasant flights on LOT Polish Airlines, we arrived this evening in Tel Aviv. We met Cari our guide and are now on the way to Jerusalem. We are tired and happy.

June 12, 2023
Many of our travelers land at Chopin airport in Warsaw on their 5 hour layover before landing in Tel Aviv. 

Israel News Updates

06/06/2023 07:53:02 AM


Year in Review 2022–23: Beit Tzedek—House of Justice

06/01/2023 02:54:32 PM



As a beit tzedek (house of justice), we work toward a better world, putting our values into meaningful action through social justice opportunities.

April 2023 marked the return of Mitzvah Day, with more than 160 congregants of all ages participating in service projects across Madison. We also held a program on reproductive rights together with UW Hillel, inaugurated the Joel Pedersen Lectureship in Tikkun Olam and the Environment, sent over 1,000 postcards to voters in low-turnout areas, and so much more.

Check out the other sections of our Year in Review 2022–23 to read about our worship, community events, and educational programming.

Mitzvah Day

In April, Mitzvah Day returned to Temple Beth El, led by our co-chairs, Lynn Renner, Staci Rieder, and Linda Reivitz, with staff support from Aleeza Hoffert and the help of many project leaders. The building was abuzz with activity, as young families brought their children and longtime members worked side by side with old friends.

Over 160 people of all ages volunteered for Mitzvah Day. We cooked hundreds of meals, tied blankets and knit hats, built shelves and cleaned kitchens, sent letters of appreciation to first responders, and hosted a Social Justice Fair in the Weinstein Community Court.

How TBE members supported our community:

  • We had 160 registered volunteers, plus more showing up to help that day.
  • Members donated bags full of diapers, toiletries, food, school supplies, and yarn, along with $832 to help purchase supplies.
  • We swabbed the cheeks of nine potential bone marrow donors and shared information with many others.
  • We turned out 45 volunteers of all ages to work outside on a cold blustery day. We cleaned up and spread mulch at Beit Olamim cemetery, readied garden beds at Goodman Community Center, picked up at garbage at Wingra Park, and helped at the Arboretum.
  • We prepared 340 meals for future dinners at the Catholic Multicultural Center and did a spring cleaning of their building.
  • Our knitters made 14 items, including hats, dishcloths, and small creatures for children’s library reading programs. We also formed a new TBE knitting group!
  • We made 26 gift baskets for distribution at a Mother’s Day program for FOSTER, a case management program for parents.
  • To help hospitalized children, we made 30 meals at Ronald McDonald House and tied 27 fleece blankets for Project Linus.
  • Children and parents made cards for first responders through Operation Gratitude and wrote pen pal letters to children in Israel.
  • We supported 6 nonprofit community organizations at our Social Justice Fair. 
  • We also gave manicures and hand massages to residents at Capitol Lakes, sorted and bundled diapers for delivery to the Village Diaper Bank, and built bookshelves and assembled yard signs for the GSAFE LGBTQ+ youth program.
  • Adamah and the Great Dane donated a delicious lunch for 101 students and their families, and Sam and Roger Brown donated Rocky Rococo pizza for 40 people at dinner.

Additional photos from Mitzvah Day:

Other Social Action Initiatives and Accomplishments

For the second summer, our Racial Justice Action Team worked with the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County to offer internships for 11 high school and college students with employers from TBE and the broader Jewish community. The program will continue in summer 2023 thanks to an additional grant from the Jewish Federation of Madison. 

Our Environment and Climate Change Action Team worked with the Facilities Committee and TBE staff to improve our building’s energy efficiency. Thanks to a generous grant from the Goodman Foundation, TBE will be installing solar panels this year, honoring our commitment to the planet and saving money at the same time.
Our Immigrant and Refugee Rights Action Team worked throughout the year to furnish apartments and buy groceries for newly arriving refugee families from around the world, working with Jewish Social Services and Open Doors for Refugees. We also helped coordinate collection of coats, winter gear, and school supplies for refugee families.
Our Social Action Shabbat focused on threats to our democracy and ways to strengthen our political institutions in Wisconsin. This fall and spring, our Civic Engagement Action Team sent over 1,000 postcards to voters from low-turnout areas, canvassed households in south Madison, and offered voter registration at UW–Madison and the Wisconsin DMV.

Our Environment and Climate Change Action Team and our Torah Study group began an annual lecture series in honor of the late Joel Pedersen, exploring the connection between climate science and Jewish values. Professor Jamie Schauer was the first invited speaker, talking about air pollution and its impacts around the world. 
Together with UW Hillel, we hosted a panel discussion on “Reclaiming Reproductive Rights: An Intergenerational Effort.” The panel highlighted Jewish teachings on abortion, current legal challenges, efforts to help women access abortion care, and student perspectives, followed by a spirited discussion continued over dinner.

Social Action by the Numbers

How TBE members supported our community:

  • High Holy Day Food Drive: Thanks to the generosity of our members, we were able to distribute $13,000 to Second Harvest Foodbank and $3,000 to six smaller food programs. We also bought food for the Mitzvah Day cooking projects.
  • Goodman Community Center Thanksgiving Basket Collection: Religious School students and families donated 336 items for Thanksgiving dinners.
  • Catholic Multicultural Center: 21 TBE volunteers served meals and cleaned up after a community dinner every month, serving nearly 400 people over the year. 
  • Healing House: 27 volunteers planned, bought, and cooked four weeks of dinners for people without permanent housing recovering from illness or surgery, a total of 224 meals. 
  • Thoreau School Food Program: 10 volunteers packed and delivered bags of food for 35 children for 7 weeks.
  • Mount Zion Baptist Church: TBE volunteers packed 300 sack lunches for participants in a 6-week parenting program.
  • Allied Wellness Center Essentials Pantry: In recognition of Juneteenth and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, TBE members donated $3,500 for hygiene items and gift cards. 
  • Jewish Social Services refugee resettlement program: Our volunteers have helped set up about 16 apartments with furniture and food, welcoming refugees from Afghanistan, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine, and Syria.
  • JSS Aljirani  “friendship/mentor” program: Our volunteers have been helping refugees learn about American culture and systems.

Social justice education and advocacy in support of Jewish values:

  • We hosted a discussion of historical and continuing barriers to home ownership for Black households, in connection with a local production of the play “Raisin in the Sun.”
  • Together with TBE Sisterhood, we toured the exhibition “Sifting and Reckoning” at the Chazen Museum, about the history of racial prejudice and protest at UW Madison. 
  • We offered a regular “Racial Justice Action of the Month” in the Weekly Happenings emails, with opportunities to educate, participate, advocate, and donate.
  • Walkers and bikers met at Temple for a talk by a Madison city engineer on the impact of runoff on the Lake Wingra watershed, followed by a ride around the lake. 
  • We wrote articles for the Social Justice Spotlight on transportation sustainability and efforts to improve the energy efficiency of the Temple building.
  • We sponsored a program on “Climate Change as a Driver of Human Migration,” followed by a lively discussion among the participants. 
  • We hosted a presentation on using humanitarian parole to reunite families needing to leave Afghanistan.


Year in Review 2022–23: Beit T’filah—House of Worship

06/01/2023 01:49:47 PM


As a beit t’filah, house of worship, we explore and nurture our spiritual needs, observing rituals and holidays in traditional and innovative ways. In 2022–23, we introduced a new monthly T’filat Shabbat service and Café Shabbat on Saturday mornings, our young ones enjoyed a fun Amazing Shofar Race leading up to the High Holy Days, we gathered for a potluck seder on the first night of Passover in addition to our popular community seder on the second night, and we loved the costumes, joy, and community at the Community Purim Carnival and our Purim shpiel, “The Shushan Bride.”

Check out the other sections of our Year in Review 2022–23 to read about our community events, educational programming, and social justice activities. 

Life-Cycle Observances

Worship, Holidays, and Special Events

Clergy and congregants continued exploring new aspects of personal and communal worship in the ongoing program “Niftach Libeinu (‘Let Us Open Our Hearts’): Exploring New Possibilities for Prayer and Ritual.”

In November we introduced a new monthly T’filat Shabbat service and Café Shabbat on Saturday mornings.

Cuteness abounded at our Amazing Shofar Race as we prepared for High Holy Days and loved to hear the shofar blast.

Sukkot and Simchat Torah were filled with community gatherings for all ages as we dwelled in our sukkah and celebrated completing another cycle of Torah and starting anew.

The weather was lovely as we symbolically cast our wrongdoings (represented by birdseed) into Lake Wingra as part of our Rosh Hashanah observance.

We loved the costumes, joy, and community as we celebrated Purim at both the Community Purim Carnival and our Purim dinner and shpiel, “The Shushan Bride.”

We held a potluck seder on the first night of Passover in addition to our popular community seder on the second night of the holiday.


We welcomed renowned performer and scholar Galeet Dardashti in July 2022 for a Shabbat filled with learning and song, exploring the depth and richness of Sephardi, Mizrachi, and North African Jewish musical traditions.

Our Pride Shabbat service in June featured melodies by LGBTQ+ writers and composers as well as songs with relevant themes.


Year in Review 2022–23: Beit Midrash—House of Study

06/01/2023 01:20:56 PM


As a beit midrash (house of study), TBE offers lifelong education for children and adults, from Religious and Hebrew School to lectures, courses, and events.
In 2022–23, we celebrated the b’nai mitzvah of 19 students, learned from Madison’s women rabbis at our Swarsensky Memorial Weekend, welcomed an average of 18 participants per session to our weekly Torah Study, raised over $2,000 for youth programs and scholarships at a disco-themed pasta dinner and dessert auction, and so much more! Read on for some notable numbers. 

Check out the other sections of our Year in Review 2022–23 to read about our worship, community events, and social action activities.

Our Religious School community celebrated Hanukkah with an all-school shira, a song session led by Cantor Jacob Niemi and the music team.

The annual pasta dinner and dessert auction run by our teen youth group was disco themed this year. The teens raised over $2,000 for youth programs and scholarships by auctioning donated desserts.

Congregational Education

The Swarsensky Memorial Weekend in November 2022 focused on the history of women in the rabbinate and featured Madison’s women rabbis, who shared their perspectives on the challenges we face in the American Jewish community.
The featured speaker at the Blockstein Memorial Lecture in February was Francesca Hong, Wisconsin’s first Asian American state legislator.

Kesher Israel Committee

On June 7, 2022,  Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh, the first Israeli Druze woman elected to the Knesset, gave a 30-minute presentation regarding her time as a Cabinet minister and her experiences growing up in the Druze village of Daliyat al-Karmel.

Our Kesher Spotlight newsletter in Spring 2023 included, among other items, a piece by Rabbi Biatch titled “The Challenges of the 25th Knesset: Theirs and Ours,” Israel-themed artwork by Ellen Meyer, an overview of the Reform movement’s expansion in Israel, and a portion of a poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai titled “Abraham’s Sons.”

In March and April 2023, Rabbi Biatch and Madison's Israeli shlichim (emissaries) spoke on “Israel: The Present and Future Reality,” both for those traveling to Israel with TBE in 2023 and for all who are interested and concerned about Israel at this important moment in history.

The Union for Reform Judaism’s Israel Leadership Network (ILN), led by Rabbi Josh Weinberg, meets monthly to learn from experts and discuss ways to help Israel in these difficult times. Kesher Israel Committee chair Joanna Berke is the TBE representative, although others are encouraged to join. Joanna sends updates to keep people informed as protests against the current Israeli Knesset continue.

Led by the Kesher Israel Committee as part of TBE’s congregational Mitzvah Day in April 2023, Religious School students wrote notes to kids at our sister congregation in Israel, Kehilat Shir Chadash.

Year in Review 2022–23: Beit Knesset—House of Community

06/01/2023 12:02:33 PM


At Temple Beth El, we gather as a beit knesset, a house of community, finding meaning in Jewish activities, Temple involvement, and social connections.
Highlights of our activities as a beit knesset in 2022–23 included our A Whole Latke Fun Hanukkah party for young families, our senior program with a focus on Ukraine, the Drag Brunch, Bingo, and Drag Education event hosted by Sisterhood and Men’s Club, fun events for people in their 20s and 30s with MJND, and our 56th annual Food-A-Rama for the entire community, among the many other happenings shown below!

Check out the other sections of our Year in Review 2022–23 to read about our worship, study, and social justice activities and accomplishments. 

Young Families & Mishpacha Moments

A Whole Latke Fun was had by the 150 families who celebrated the first night of Hanukkah with crafts, story, song, candles, and food.

We welcomed the end of the Shabbat and start of the new week with pizza and lots of dancing with our glowsticks to light up the night.

We celebrated Tu Bishvat with a tasty, fruity seder together and planted parsley seeds.

We prepared for Passover and learned about the seder in a delicious way at our Chocolate Seder.

Also for young families, our Tots and Tunes program continued to thrive this year as our pre-k kiddos continued to enjoy music, PJ Library stories, and crafts with their families. It also attracted some new families.

Singles Creating Community

Our Singles Creating Community group resumed meeting and enjoyed monthly dinners and breakfast coffees together around town, even celebrating New Year’s Eve together.


As is our tradition we had a colorful June celebrating Pride month at Pride Shabbat and at our Pride in the Park event where we tie-dyed clothing and watched a Mallards game.

Senior Program

With the war in Ukraine raging, our older members gathered on Zoom as we learned about the country’s (Jewish) history, its music, and the current situation from Carole Kantor, from Cantor Niemi, and from Boris Nenide, who had recently returned from helping in the region.

Men’s Club

The Men’s Club had an active year as we increased our activities and our service to the community. During this year we added members to our leadership circle and honored Rabbi Irv Ehrlich as he steps aside to concentrate on our lunch gatherings. Some highlights of this past year were  ushering for the High Holy Days; constructing and taking down the Temple Sukkah; celebrating Men’s Club Shabbat; working with Sisterhood on the well-received Drag Queen Brunch, Bingo, and Drag Education; continuing our service to Beit Olamim by spreading mulch and removing weeds from the burial site on Mineral Point Road; and initiating and growing new adventures including golf outings and card night. 

Spreading mulch fortified by coffee and breakfast items   
Men’s Club retreat in Cross Plains 


MJND (20s & 30s) enjoyed many events this year, including a Lag Ba’omer bonfire, a post-Passover pasta party, an evening at Dave & Buster’s, a Purim costume party, hamantaschen cooking class, bowling, Shabbat potluck dinners, and more! 


The 56th annual Food-A-Rama was a wonderful success! Thanks to all who support this event every year with your lunch orders, volunteer time, and more. Proceeds from Food-A-Rama help fund Sisterhood initiatives such as camper scholarships, support for local agencies like Second Harvest, and giving back to our Temple Beth El community with donations to capital projects like the sanctuary remodel.

Sisterhood co-presidents Rachel Leader and Casey Becker partnered with Rabbi Jonathan Biatch, Cantor Jacob Niemi, and many Sisterhood members in a lay-led service in February. The joyful service included prayers and songs from Jewish women leaders. Tanya Atkinson, president of Planned Parenthood Action of Wisconsin, was the featured speaker and shared her thoughts on how to continue the fight for reproductive rights in Wisconsin.

Over 100 people joined us for the Sisterhood/Men’s Club Drag Brunch, Bingo, and Drag Education event in March. Loretta Love Lee led us in a spirited game of bingo and answered questions from attendees to help us understand more about gender and sexuality, how to be intentional allies with the LGBTQIA+ community, and the history of drag.


The Communications Committee had a busy year as usual, helping the congregation and community learn about all we do at TBE!
Combining staff and volunteer efforts, we produced:

  • 5 Giving Spotlights, 4 Social Justice Spotlights, 1 Young Families Happenings, 1 Kesher Spotlight 
  • Weekly Happenings emails every Wednesday
  • 10 event postcards and numerous event emails, plus other congregational emails
  • 5 Bulletin issues
  • Various website edits, including a new Inclusivity and Accessibility page
  • 2 Endowment for Spiritual Leadership mailings (August and January) 
  • 6 Town Hall and survey emails, plus an email summarizing the findings
  • Membership renewal brochure and emails
  • High Holy Day communications, program, and Book of Remembrance
  • Numerous Instagram and Facebook posts

Behind the scenes, we helped:

  • provide input on communication task transition plans during the midyear staff reorganization 
  • advise on communications related to the new sponsorship program
  • edit and proofread grant applications for security and environmental sustainability project funding
  • plan this new format for the year in review, and more!

Israel News Updates

05/11/2023 02:56:41 PM


The chair of our Kesher Israel Committee shares with us these articles of interest on Israeli news, history, and society: 

"Germany sets up panel to review 1972 Munich Olympic attack" (AP News, April 21, 2023) 

"Israel’s Declaration of Independence — May 14, 1948" (Times of Israel) 

“Tens of thousands join protests against Israeli judicial overhaul” (CNBC, May 7, 2023) 

“Israel and the UAE join forces to accelerate AI innovation in Abu Dhabi” (Jerusalem Post, May 9, 2023) 

Reach Out to Your Congresspeople for LGBTQ Rights

05/10/2023 08:17:38 AM


We at TBE are partnering with Keshet and the Union for Reform Judaism and asking you to take action now for LGBTQ+ rights. Keshet, an organization that works for full equality of LGBTQ Jews, shared the following information. We ask you to read this message and take concrete steps to help combat hurtful legislation and support rights and dignity for all. 

We’re living in a time of unprecedented attacks against the LGBTQ+ community, especially against trans youth. With over 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced across the country, we are asking you to take action now for our rights.

Here are two anti-LGBTQ+ bills that are moving at the federal level:

  • HR 734, which would ban transgender and intersex youth from playing on school sports teams. If passed, this bill would take away the important social and health benefits, as well as the opportunities to build skills like teamwork, cooperation, and leadership, we know kids get from playing sports. (GLAD) 
  • HR 5, which would allow the federal government to act as a national school board. If passed, this bill would undermine local control of education, and hurt the ability of both parents and teachers to support children. This would allow for unprecedented federal government control and disrupt the public education system, undermine our communities (especially LGBTQ+ families and families of color), and take away the resources and support LGBTQ+ youth need to thrive. (GLAD)

Take action now against these bad bills!
The fact that many of our elected officials are spending time writing discriminatory legislation against youth who just want to play sports and live their lives is disheartening. The good news is that we at Keshet are fighting these bills – and we need the support of dedicated advocates and allies like yourself to ensure that these bills do not become law.

And, there is more good news! On April 19th, the Do No Harm Act was introduced. This bill would clarify that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is intended to protect religious freedom without allowing the infliction of harm on other people, including LGBTQ+ people and members of nondominant faiths, like Judaism.

Take action now for this good bill!  

It is important to fight against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and also fight for pro-LGBTQ+ legislation! We urge you to contact your elected officials and demand they support the LGBTQ+ community by voting NO on HR 734 & HR 5 and YES on the Do No Harm Act. As LGBTQ+ Jews and allies, we are compelled by our values to fight against injustice wherever we find it. We owe it to the LGBTQ+ youth in our lives and across the country to be firm against this proposed tyranny, and together, we can work toward a society where true equality is the law of the land.

Please join TBE members in participating in the actions listed above. Here is one more way for your voice to be heard:

Rainbow Pride Flag with blue vertical column overlayed that says "statement from the reform movement" with the Religious Action Center logo and NFTY logo

The Union for Reform Judaism, Keshet, and 90 other organizations already sent a letter to the House of Representatives in April. Add your voice now! 

We can make a difference as we commit to living our values and take a stand against injustice.

Celebrate Pride with Us!

05/09/2023 08:14:57 PM


We celebrate LGBTQ+lives and fight for LGBTQ+ rights all year. In June, during LGBTQ+ Pride Month, we celebrate the freedom to be ourselves even more!

Please join us for a colorful weekend June 9 and 10 featuring the work of LGBTQ+ artists in our worship and opportunities to eat, pray, craft, and learn together.

Before we begin our celebration, take a moment to learn about current legislation that can harm the freedom of many, and take action now.

Temple Beth El firmly believes in the Jewish value of b’tzelem Elohim, that we are all created in God’s image. We aim to create a community based on inclusion, collaboration, kindness, and equity, both in our congregation and in the wider community. Please see our Inclusivity and Accessibility page and our in-person information for details.

Pride Party
Friday, June 9, 6:30–7:30 pm • TBE

Dress up to show your pride and join us for a rainbow-themed celebration before our 7:30 pm Pride Shabbat worship. Enjoy a colorful array of sights, sounds, and tastes representing LGBTQ+ pride. This family-friendly event will include rainbow-colored foods, craft projects, a photo wall, and more.

To help our planning, RSVPs for the Pride Party are appreciated.

Learn more and register now

Pride Shabbat
Friday, June 9, 7:30–9:00 pm • TBE & YouTube

Our Shabbat service will feature melodies by LGBTQ+ writers and composers as well as songs with relevant themes. Our worship and community spaces will be decorated with lots of color! 

Everyone is welcome!

Learn more and join us in person or online

Queering the Text: Finding Meaning in LGBTQ+ Perspectives on Torah
Saturday, June 10, 9:00–10:00 am • TBE & Zoom

Cantor Jacob Niemi will share examples of queer interpretations of text that add new facets to our understanding of Torah and its relevance in our lives. While this approach may be particularly meaningful to those who are LGBTQ+, the conversation will explore how reading through a “bent lens” (a term borrowed from David Shneer’s introduction to “Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible”) can deepen the experience of all who find meaning in the study of Torah.

Learn more and register now

Get in the Pride Spirit through Song

Watch the recordings of B’ou NashirPride playlistfrom 2021 and 2022 where Cantor Niemi shared songs with Pride themes and elevated the voices of the current generation of LGBTQ+ singers and songwriters to fill our souls.

Pride Resources

The 2020 Pride team put together a wonderful list of resources available on the Temple blog

Want to join our PRIDE planning team? Have questions? Contact Aleeza A. Hoffert.

Sponsorships Strengthen Community Partnerships

04/24/2023 12:54:09 PM


Temple Beth El has launched an annual sponsorship program that increases our revenue while giving sponsors the opportunity to connect with TBE members and our values. Sponsors choose a specific level, and then these businesses or organizations can share their company logo and their websites with the TBE community through our communication platforms. You can find all the details about the gold and silver sponsorship levels here

We are pleased to announce that Cress Funeral Services is our first gold-level sponsor. You will be seeing their logo and a link to their website in various TBE communications, reminding us of their generous support and their connection to our community. If you know of a business or organization that would be interested in one of these sponsorships, please contact Stefanie Kushner at  

The Endowment for Spiritual Leadership

04/24/2023 12:45:45 PM


Our endowment campaign continues to go strong, and we are grateful to all of our donors. As of March 23, over 120 households have donated more than $4.8 million to the Endowment for Spiritual Leadership. Every contribution represents a lasting and meaningful step toward transforming our future.
To ensure that we attain our goal of 100% community participation by June, TBE board members will be reaching out with phone calls to congregants we haven’t heard from. These phone calls will be a chance for you to have a conversation with board members about the details of the endowment and get answers to any questions you may have.
You can make your pledge by completing the form on the Endowment for Spiritual Leadership web page, emailing Stefanie Kushner (, or returning the donation card you received in the mail. Donations can be given over multiple years.

If you have any questions, please reach out to Stefanie Kushner at

How Endowments Help Our Budget

04/24/2023 12:41:06 PM


Throughout March, TBE staff and their committees finalize their budget requests for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts on July 1. You can read more about the budget process here
As we crunch the numbers, we are mindful that an important source of revenue comes from the interest income from our endowments. Here is how our endowments provide income: 

  • An administrative fee: 2% of the average balance of each endowment is taken as revenue. These funds help cover the expense of the bookkeeping and maintenance of these funds. In the fiscal year 2024 budget (starting on July 1, 2023), this totals just over $65,000.
  • A distribution fee: 2% of the average balance of each endowment is taken as revenue to be used for the restricted purpose of the fund. For example, the purpose of the Blotner Family Music Fund is to “enhance liturgical and other music activities at TBE.” The distribution fee from this fund helps cover the cost of a piano accompanist at worship. The distribution fees provide $65,000 to help our budget.

The permanently endowed funds not only help our annual budget, but, because they continue to grow, they offer a source of income for the future. Donating to our existing endowed funds (including the Yerusha Fund and the Larry Kohn Chair for Jewish Learning), or to new endowments such as the Endowment for Spiritual Learning, helps Temple Beth El’s financial security both now and in the future. Your generous support of TBE’s endowments allows us to continue our forward-facing vision, looking toward a strong and vibrant future. 

Yom Ha’atzma’ut: Israeli Independence Day

03/24/2023 05:22:11 PM


By Laurel Hefty

Held on the fifth day of Iyar in the Hebrew calendar (April 26, 2023), Yom Ha’atzmaut commemorates Israel’s independence in 1948. According to Jewish Virtual Library, “Israeli Independence Day is always immediately preceded by Yom Hazikaron—Memorial Day for the Fallen Israeli Soldiers. The message of linking these two days is clear: Israelis owe their independence—the very existence of the state—to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for it.” 

As Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion said, quoting Israel’s Declaration of Independence, "This is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State."

As described at

Independence Day is a holiday in Israel, and like many Jewish observances, this "day" starts the evening beforehand. On this evening, the speaker of the Israeli Parliament, or Knesset, gives a speech and there is a dramatic televised presentation. Groups of soldiers carry Israeli flags and form shapes that represent symbols of Judaism, including a … menorah and a … Star of David. In addition, 12 beacons are lit by people who made a special contribution to Israeli society in a particular field. Each of the beacons represents one of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Many people hold parties or sing and dance in the streets to celebrate and fireworks are set off. ... It is also common to display the Israeli flag prominently on homes and cars. Many religious people may read the Torah or say the Hallel, which are six Psalms, or blow the shofar. … 

Yom Ha'atzmaut is also celebrated by [Jews living in the Diaspora]. ...

[Yom Ha’atzmaut] is not celebrated by everyone. … Many Arabs feel that the day, which they call al-Nakba, the disaster, represents a loss of national identity.

Expansion of the Reform Movement in Israel

03/24/2023 05:16:18 PM


We are happy to share with you some of the ways the Reform movement has expanded in Israel.
The first Reform congregation in Israel, Har-El in Jerusalem, opened its doors in 1958, yet Reform and Progressive Judaism in Israel existed even earlier. A popular myth is that Reform Judaism in Israel is transplanted from North America, but actually its founders were from Western Europe and from Israel itself. A branch of the American Reform seminary, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, founded its first Jerusalem campus in 1963, yet today’s movement is deeply rooted in Israel and has expanded over the years. 
According to the Union for Reform Judaism, communities affiliated with Reform Judaism in Israel now include:

  • 50 congregations and community centers throughout Israel
  • 50 kindergartens, five elementary schools, and two high schools
  • 100 Reform rabbis ordained in Israel
  • 120 Reform rabbis in Israel
  • 500 young people have participated in pre-army programs
  • 500 weddings a year performed by movement-affiliated rabbis
  • 1,000 campers participate annually in summer camps programs
  • 1,500 b’nai mitzvah ceremonies were held during 2016 at Israeli Reform congregations
  • 12,000 families are affiliated with Reform/Progressive communities and educational institutions

Read more about Reform Judaism in Israel on the URJ website.   

Letter to President Biden Supporting Democracy in Israel

03/24/2023 05:10:42 PM


by Joanna Berke, Kesher Israel Committee chair

This is a letter written to President Biden by the chair of our Kesher Israel Committee, who presents it in the hope that others will write to President Biden and their representatives asking for support of democracy in Israel.

Dear President Biden,

Israel has just elected Netanyahu as its new Prime Minister. It was a tight election with half the population voting for a liberal government. 

P.M. Netanyahu has brought with him an ultra-Orthodox cabinet prepared to eradicate all the equal rights declared by Israel's Declaration of Independence, many of which had been reintroduced by the outgoing government. For many reasons, including the elimination of the "right of return law," these ultra-Orthodox changes will affect those of us in the U.S. and the wider Western hemisphere as well as in Israel.
The U.S. is committed to Israel politically, economically, and morally.

I'm writing to plead with you to stand by Israel and its people in this most precarious moment. Please exert any possible influence on P.M. Netanyahu. Please ask him to use his common sense when moving forward with this newly chosen cabinet.

Thank you.
Joanna S. Berke

The Kesher Israel Committee hopes that this letter might inspire others to learn more.  Please write to your representatives encouraging them to support Israel in this most difficult of times.

Letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu Regarding the New Knesset

03/24/2023 05:01:26 PM


by Joanna Berke, Kesher Israel Committee chair

We present this letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu in the hope that others will find inspiration in it to contact members of the Knesset. Their individual contact information follows the letter.

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu,
I am a Reform Zionist Jew living in the U.S. city of Madison, Wisconsin. I find it hard to express myself to you at this time of change. The changes your government is proposing are so very threatening and hurtful to me. 

I have lived a Jew and, in time, I will die a Jew. I've visited Israel three times, each as part of a group of congregants of Temple Beth El, Madison, Wisconsin. When I stepped off the bus and looked up at Jerusalem for the first time I had a spiritual sense that I was home. I see, feel and believe that Israel is my homeland. Yet, under the new government it would be impossible for me to settle there.

My family is 50% gay yet your government would throw out the gay community.

My daughter and son-in-law are black. What would you do with black minorities in Israel? 

I am a Jew. I study Torah every Saturday morning with a group of scholars. We follow the Israeli sequence. I am a Jew through blood, I'm a Jew through history, and I'm a Jew according to the moral teachings of Torah and Talmud.

And there I come to the central issue: where is your morality that you would erase whole portions of the Jewish people from existence?

If this government continues as is, you will split the Diaspora from the rest of Judaism and cripple the growth of our Nation. 

Please think carefully about this, Mr. Prime Minister. The future of our people is at stake.

Joanna Berke
Chair, Kesher Israel Committee
Madison, WI 53711

Email addresses for prime minister and other Knesset members for communication: 
Benjamin Netanyahu -
Danny Danon -
Moshe Saada -
Itamar Ben-Gvir -
Nir Barkat -

The Challenges of the 25th Knesset: Theirs and Ours

03/24/2023 04:56:33 PM


by Rabbi Jonathan Biatch and Joanna Berke, Kesher Israel Committee chair

The 25th Knesset, elected November 1, 2022, consists of 120 representatives representing 12 political parties that all received at least 3.25% of the votes in the most recent election. In order to form a government, one political party must receive enough votes to give them one more than 50% of the Knesset (MKs). If that threshold is not met, party leaders can attempt to form coalitions representing a number of parties, if the parties and the MKs agree. (Such coalition agreements may be built on mutually beneficial ideological or practical lines; there is no norm and no legal requirement for any one party to pair with another.)

Because Likud, the party of Benjamin Netanyahu, received a large number of votes in the last election and was able to convince Israel’s president that he could amass a coalition of at least 61 members, the president gave Netanyahu a “mandate” (permission with a three-week shelf life) to form a coalition government. And, indeed, he subsequently formed the current governing coalition consisting of 64 MKs representing right-wing, conservative, ultra-Orthodox, and settler-driven parties, each with their unique political and philosophical direction, each willing to provide mutual support to the other coalition partners.

Many observers report that the current government is the most politically conservative ever elected in Israel. Yet despite that government’s majority, their coalition is fragile, and they cannot afford to have even one Knesset member defect from the coalition. So, everyone must be appeased in some way.

There are at least five problematic areas where this coalition has raised the ire of liberal Israel:

  • Prioritizing Orthodox denominations by foreclosing the possibility of any egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall; forbidding non-Orthodox conversions; and amending the Law of Return to prohibit those with only one Jewish grandparent to qualify to enter Israel under the Law.
  • Eliminating outside speakers in public schools who, in the eyes of the new authority, would bring “inappropriate” materials, such as information about gender diversity and other LGBTQ matters; and eliminating the use of non-Orthodox resources for teaching about society, which is currently done by Reform and other liberal streams of Judaism.
  • Allowing the young Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men—not to mention young women—to return to studies and elect not to serve in the army or offer national service.
  • Imposing Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox curriculum materials in public schools.
  • Altering the status quo and loosening Jewish prayer restrictions on the Temple Mount, an area where exclusively Muslim worship is now permitted.

For these reasons and others, Israeli Jews have been motivated to protest in the streets since the beginning of this government.

Volunteer opportunities

02/24/2023 10:53:26 AM


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

Bring the Whole Mishpacha (Family) to Mitzvah Day!

• Through April 23, we’re collecting items to use and donate as part of Mitzvah Day.  See what we’re collecting.

• On April 23 we’ve got community service projects all day long. Learn more and register for a project or two.  

• Come shop at the Social Justice Fair, open to the public (invite your local friends!).

Earthquake Relief for Turkey and Syria

The recent major earthquakes along the Turkish-Syrian border and the great loss of life and property reminds us of the need to reach out to our fellow human beings to offer what we can. Please contribute to relief efforts at Turkish Philanthropy Funds, a charity given a 100% rating by Charity Navigator.  

Volunteer Drivers Needed for Immigration Appointments

The Dane Sanctuary Coalition provide rides for immigrants to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices in Milwaukee, Waukegan, IL, and Chicago, as well as the United States Immigration Court in Chicago. Recently we have started to offer local rides to immigrants who need to meet with local immigration attorneys but who live in parts of Dane County without much public transportation. 

When a ride is needed, Dan Zimmerman or Dineen Grow, the co-coordinators for the volunteer driver program, send out an email to the list of volunteers. Volunteer drivers only commit to a specific ride based on their availability. For the longer trips, partial compensation for mileage and parking is available. If you’re interested, there is a virtual training session about the role and responsibilities of a volunteer driver, USCIS processes, etc. Email Dan Zimmerman or call him at his home at 608-241-1158. 

Serving Meals at the Catholic Multicultural Center 

If you are looking for a fun, easy opportunity to help the community and spend quality time as a team or group, you can help serve a meal at the Catholic Multicultural Center (CMC). CMC provides free meals every day to community members on Madison's south side and people experiencing homelessness. Our volunteers set out and serve the food, join the meal, and then do the dishes and clean up. The Catholic Multicultural Center is located at 1862 Beld Street, Madison, WI 53713. 

Our TBE team is signed up to help on the third Tuesday of each month. Our next days will be March 21 and April 18, 3:30–5:30 pm. If you’re interested in engaging with other TBE members to meet this critical community need, click the sign-up link. Contact Sue Levy if you have questions.

Court Observers for Criminal and Eviction Court

Several Temple Beth El members act as court observers under a program run by the Nehemiah Center for Urban Development, watching and reporting on criminal and/or eviction court hearings. Observers make their own schedules and are expected to observe about four hours each month. For more information, you can contact any of those currently involved: Betsy Abramson, Lynn Silverman, or Cari DiTullio.

Middle School Literacy and Math Tutors

The Racial Justice Action Team is partnering with the Urban League of Greater Madison to recruit adults as literacy or math tutors in Madison’s middle schools. Volunteers complete online trainings and then select the middle school of their choice to commit to at least one hour each week working with individual students. You can begin to explore this opportunity by completing the volunteer tutor application. To learn more about it from a tutor who participated this spring, please contact Betsy Abramson at 608-332-7867, who tutored in algebra twice/week at O’Keeffe Middle School. She learned a lot of algebra herself and reports great satisfaction in helping a 7th grader catch up in this critical skill.

Volunteering through Jewish Social Services 

Jewish Social Services succeeds because of its fabulous team of volunteers who serve as drivers, friendly visitors, events supporters, language tutors, helpers with the Refugee Resettlement program, and so much more. Here are some volunteer roles:

Individual and family support: Extend and provide support by helping clients coping with a move, changes or challenges in their life situations, and being an ally and resource person.
Driver: This may be combined with individual/family support volunteering or as designated shopper. Provide rides to clients for appointments and other destinations is on an as-needed and as-available basis.
Designated shopper: Provide assistance and companionship by going shopping or running errands with or for clients.
Spiritual care volunteers: Visit people in memory care, after specific training for such visits.
Office help: Assist in various tasks as needed for mailings, record keeping, etc.
Volunteer for holiday, social events, and Shabbats: Assist staff to help participants, family and friends enjoy and participate in meals and events. Put together holiday gift bags, and/or deliver holiday treats to people in their homes and facilities.

Child care volunteers: Provide child care during an Afghan women’s support group on Thursdays at 10:00 am at the Northport Community Center. The children range from infants to age 5. 

Refugee mentorship through Aljirani Madison: Aljirani Madison (from the Swahili “jirani” and Arabic “aljar,” both meaning “neighbor”) is a six-month volunteering program that pairs a companion or small group of companions with a refugee or refugee family to provide a warm welcome, companionship, and practical help. Contact Erica Serlin or Lynn Silverman to hear about their experience and learn more about the program.

Co-sponsorship: Help with refugee resettlement. Activities include finding and preparing homes before arrival, greeting the family at the airport, connecting them with local services, helping them secure employment, and providing transportation as needed, all with assistance from JSS’s experienced staff.

Community Action for Refugee Arrivals (CARA) Program: Support JSS refugee clients by setting up apartments and engaging the broader community in ways to make Madison an even more welcoming place for refugees.

For all JSS volunteer-related questions, contact Paul Borowsky at 608-442-4083 or

Blockstein Lecture Emphasizes Community Building and Working-Class Support

02/24/2023 10:45:42 AM


This year’s speaker for the Liesl M. Blockstein Memorial Lecture on February 12 was State Representative Francesca Hong, who represents an Assembly district in central and northeast Madison. Representative Hong works to build community and support the working class through issues such as housing access, climate justice, labor rights, and educational and racial equity. 

Rep. Hong introduced her family and spoke about her upbringing, the difficulties they faced as immigrants, and the religious and cultural values that inform her work as a legislator. She noted that discussions in the Wisconsin legislature too often come from a mindset of scarcity where people are pitted against each other to divide resources, a mindset that favors the already rich and powerful. Rep. Hong believes there are enough resources in this country for everyone to be housed and educated, and she rejects the mindset that some must be diminished for others to succeed. She hopes to push our politics toward a mindset of abundance, where we work together to fashion lives of goodness and dignity for all people. 

When asked what can be done to support these goals, she urged people to push back through voting and asking others to vote. She also suggested that we talk with our friends and neighbors about our hopes for a more just society and ways public policy can offer concrete solutions. 

Here are her remarks:

Hello everyone, 

Thank you so much for being here and for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today. The Liesl M. Blockstein Memorial Lecture is truly an honor; its legacy of activism and public service a guiding light for our community. I would like to thank Kai Mishlove-Gardner and Rabbi Biatch for inviting me today, and thank my family for friends for being here with me.

My name is Francesca Hong. I’m the daughter of Korean immigrants, a small business owner, a proud mother, and state representative for the 76th assembly district here in Madison. 

My story is not unlike many of yours here today; my parents, deeply devoted, hardworking individuals, instilled in me the importance of resilience and determination at a young age. I grew up watching my father navigate the unrelenting, often impassive world of higher education as an immigrant while my mother made a new home and career in a city and country far away from the familiarity of her homeland. Their struggles and their accomplishments became guidelines by which I swore I’d live my life—their sacrifices an inspiration and their adversity my driving force. 

As many children do, I looked up to them. Begrudgingly at first, of course we all have moments when we think we know better than the people raising us, but eventually it transforms into an immeasurable respect and awe. 

I was intrigued that at the heart of their values was a deep, unrelenting faith that defined their lives and I would come to hope, would define mine. 

As many of you know, faith is a complexity. For my parents, it of course meant church. Devotion to a higher entity at its simplest form is in what you believe and how you believe it. 

But for them, faith also meant comfort, courage and community. I saw that inherent to my parents’ commitment to religion, was a commitment to the collective. My mother is a music teacher, my father is a sociologist and so naturally enough that commitment reached far beyond Sunday services and into their careers. 

They are two people committed to community through faith, a theme that is shared by many in this room and is a defining tenet of the wonderful organizations hosting us today, Jewish Social Services, Temple Beth El, and of course the legacy of Liesl M. Blockstein.

My parents are Catholic, my sister is Jewish, and many in this room hold a similar or different religious background. But no matter what we believe, the sense of responsibility to our community is a common denominator that unites us. 

So today, I hope to talk about that common denominator. What community is and how community can ultimately set us free. 

What makes a community? 

On the near west side of this city near UW–Madison, there’s a little neighborhood called Eagle Heights. There, I spent my formative years in a sort of utopia. University graduate students and their families from all over the world made Eagle Heights home; our playgrounds were diverse and our community safe from the often harsh realities of an America that did not welcome immigrants as openly as this little neighborhood did. 

But as I grew up and moved away further west, the bubble burst. I was no longer sheltered and protected by the diversity of university housing. I made my way into white spaces where I was forced to re-evaluate my value, identity and purpose almost constantly. I had suddenly and unexpectedly discovered segregated Madison, where the color of my skin mattered, but not in any way that was fair. Or maybe in a sense, segregated Madison had discovered me. 

I struggled from grade school through high school with the concepts of identity and belonging brought on by my transition into a mostly white school (where my conflicts too often occurred with other students of color, and I didn't realize until later how deeply white supremacy is engrained to pit those with vulnerable senses of belonging and identity to not be supportive but competitive).

I was missing those playgrounds where every language was spoken and where different fragrant lunches were normal and intriguing. I was missing a place where it seemed there was always someone to listen, empathize, and help. A place where the collective looked out for the individual. 

I was suddenly different and made to reckon with assimilation, privilege, white supremacy and the isolation those bring. And at an early age I understood the absence of community, and the harm its absence does. Community at a foundational level is a place where equity, justice, and inclusivity take priority. 

But it wasn’t until my service in government, did I realize that community is most importantly, a place where abundance replaces the scarcity mindset. 


If you tune into politics, or any sort of debate where policy makers are discussing a specific budget proposal, there are usually two sides. A side that argues for a policy on the basis of its value to a constituency, and a side that argues against that policy on the basis of its cost. For many of the issues that come before us legislators like healthcare, childcare, public education, immigration, and the like, we have to make the case, and sometimes beg, that an investment is worth the expenditure it takes. 

In some cases, it’s a way of keeping good governance, a way of making sure that we are responsible stewards of taxpayer money. But in a lot of cases, especially those that regard progressive policy initiatives like racial equity, it’s a way for the powerful and wealthy to maintain their control through a cynical brand of politics that prioritizes austerity over care. 

The contrast in how government works and how our communities responded to the Covid crisis really exemplified for me the detriment of scarcity mindsets. 

As an independent restaurant owner, I saw my fellow industry folks jump into action to help each other in a time of great uncertainty. I saw advocacy organizations pool resources to help people trying to keep a roof over their heads or food on the table. I saw a community look after itself when the economic and political safety nets that were supposed to catch us tore because of the pandemic. All of this while the government debated how much help we deserved. 

These individuals didn’t weigh the cost of helping before they extended a hand, they understood the importance of mutual aid and rejected the scarcity mindset. They lived up to what it means to be a community. 

It’s important to always keep in mind that scarcity mindsets have been imposed on us by the white supremacist systems that want us to feel like we can’t have it all. That we can’t have the beauty of Eagle Heights in every corner of our state. That our society must segregate and minimize others in order for a few to rise to the top. 

Mia Birdsong, a Black activist and storyteller in Oakland, describes it like this:
“The American Dream’s focus on getting ahead is a race to win so you don’t lose. It plays into our well-developed fear instincts, creating a real and imagined scarcity of resources, time, and money. This fear-based sense of scarcity pits us against one another. It also leaves us with a poorly developed sense of ‘enough,’ both of the material and of love and care.”

So what makes a community? Abundance. The belief that there is always more to give and more to have. The faith and perspective to understand that good can never come with an expense if it is done in the effort to help others. 

I reject the notion that we need to choose between our individual success and doing good. Actually, I think it’s not only possible, but necessary to create another option together.
We must pave a path that acknowledges that we are all inextricably bound together—that our success is tied to the well being of one another and our planet—that we are all better off when we work together.

We must strive to recreate Eagle Heights and the community present in this room here, everywhere we are. 

So how can community set us free? 

Birdsong reminds me that when we actually look at the resources in the U.S., there is plenty here for all of us to eat, to be housed, to have a comfortable life, a good education, and quality health care. Any politician who claims otherwise does so from a place of cynicism or self-interest. 

Abundance for everyone is possible, if we as a society—and as leaders—make different choices about what we prioritize, about how we care for each other.

Therefore, in order for us to fight the evils that face our society today we need to truly internalize, politicians especially, that our success and our hurt intertwine. And we can only do that when we commit, unrelentingly to the collective and to care.

There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 

And to this effect, throughout history, there have been many examples of how communities united achieved the impossible and went far in the fight for justice and freedom. 

Here in Wisconsin for example, Senator Gaylord Nelson rallied an estimated 20 million people and thousands of events 53 years ago in the first major environmental protest that lives on to this day as the annual celebration of Earth Day. 

The Stonewall riots, where LGBTQ+ people rebelled against discriminatory policing strategies and violence, lasted five days and later inspired protests across the country and marked the beginning of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement.

The Battle of Blair Mountain, where 10,000 West Virginia coal miners marched in protest of perilous work conditions, squalid housing and low wages, and other grievances, was the largest labor uprising in American history and its legacy defines the worker rights movement today. 

From these stories and many others, it’s clear that our communities are often the first line of defense to many crises that require institutional, systemic change.

Walter Brueggemann once said (by way of Harvard’s Marshall Ganz) “...prophetic imagination or transformational vision occurs at the intersection of two elements: criticality, a clear vision of the world’s hurt, of its needs, of its pain, coupled with hope, a sense of the world’s promise and possibility.”

Only at the core of our communities do we discover what we need and only with unity and an abundance mindset do we reconcile our shortcomings and build a better, more equitable future. 

Our communities set us free by allowing us that transformational vision. That prophetic imagination, as Brueggemann put it, is hard to come by alone. 


I want to round out today’s lecture with an ask of all of you. An ask of those of you, like my parents, who have committed to serving your community through devotion and faith. 

My ask is that you understand your care, your potential, your power. That you recommit to deeply understanding that a group of people, linked together in kindness, in generosity, and in hope can massively impact the world.

Faith communities have always had a unique role to play in changing our American political climate for the better. From the Jewish Tzedakah to the Muslim Zakat, the Christian Stewardship to the Buddhist Dana, the values of good doing and charity are tremendous tools to counteract the scarcity mindset our politics push. 

And now, when it comes to the fight for reproductive health freedom for example, or the fight to protect and affirm our LGBTQ youth, faith communities are uniquely situated to push back on Christofacists or other religious hardliners who are much more interested in dividing us than anything else. There is room enough in this country for us to be who we are, love who we want, and live our lives with agency over our bodies and destinies. To dream and hope how we want.

As we stand in our current political climate, it is true that the road ahead is uncertain, but it is not unfamiliar. There’s suffering and anguish in our communities but as I’ve learned from all of you, they are but a lighthouse to firmly guide us to a better future.

To transform our society, we need your voices to resonate in every corner of this state. We need the inherent goodness and dignity that is foundational to the faith community to guide us forward. And we need it not just as democrats or republicans, but as Americans, as people deeply committed to democracy, progress, and representation. 

Thank you for the belonging you’ve given me today—the kindness and love you’ve extended by inviting me to speak. I am honored to be in community with you and look forward to all that we achieve together. 

Constitutional Amendments and Advisory Referenda on the April Ballot

02/24/2023 10:36:56 AM


On April 4, in addition to the Supreme Court election and local elections, Wisconsin voters will find three or possibly four ballot propositions. The Legislature has recently approved two proposals to amend the state constitution, both related to conditions of cash bail, and one advisory question related to work requirements for welfare recipients. Another advisory question that is working its way through the Legislature would ask voters whether school districts should be prohibited from teaching that one race or sex is superior or responsible for past acts.
The Legislature approved two potential constitutional amendments during the last two legislative sessions, which will become law if approved by the voters in April. These measures would authorize judges to consider certain conditions when setting bail, beyond the current use of bail only to assure the defendant’s appearance in court, and would allow the Legislature to define some of the conditions. For the complete text of these measures and arguments for and against them, see the following pages on Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan political explanatory website:

Question 1: Conditions of Release Before Conviction 
Question 2: Conditions for Cash Bail Amendment

The legislature has also voted to place an advisory question on the April ballot. Senate Joint Resolution 4 asks: “Shall able-bodied, childless adults be required to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits?” State law currently requires unemployment applicants to provide proof of at least four “work search actions” each week to receive benefits. 

Advisory Question: Work Requirements for Welfare

Another advisory referendum is currently pending and could potentially appear on the April ballot. Senate Joint Resolution 7 calls for an advisory referendum on the question of whether school districts should be prohibited from providing curriculum or instruction to students that one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex or that an individual by virtue of the individual’s race or sex bears responsibility for acts committed in the past by other individuals of the same race or sex. This item will appear on the April ballot if it is adopted at least 45 days before the election.

The governor requested that the Legislature add a ballot proposition to repeal the state’s 1849 abortion ban law, but the Legislature declined to do so.

You can read more about these referenda from Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice.

Temple Beth El Takes on Climate Change

02/24/2023 10:22:18 AM


by Marta Karlov

TBE will be installing and activating solar panels this summer, thanks to a generous grant from the Goodman Foundation and the tireless efforts of various committees, volunteers and staff. Not only is this effort consistent with our commitment to tikkun olam; it is also expected to result in an initial savings of $12,000 per year. This will allow us to continue our responsible stewardship of congregation resources. According to Dan Esser, “we feel strongly that we want to be good stewards of the earth and that there is no reason to waste money on things.”


This story starts with formation of the Capital Needs Assessment (CNA) Task Force in 2018 to determine priority improvements for our building and the resources required. This team determined that our sound system and sanctuary needed revamping, and that solar panels would be a worthy investment. The first two areas of work were completed during the pandemic years, when it became clear that our sanctuary layout was not conducive to safe distancing and that an updated sound system was required to offer high-quality hybrid services. Solar panels were put on hold, since there wasn’t enough money for everything. At the same time, our heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system needed urgent maintenance—wear and tear were taking a toll and it had become inefficient, requiring substantial investment. 

Still, the CNA Task Force, the House Committee, the Environment and Climate Change Action Team, our executive director, and our building staff continued to pursue how we could install solar panels. In June 2022, Stefanie Kushner submitted a grant proposal to the Goodman Foundation for solar panel purchase and installation, using the cost information obtained by the CNA team. TBE was awarded a grant of up to $300,000 in October of that year. The grant stipulates that we apply for all other relevant rebates and incentives. So with assistance from Full Spectrum Solar, our solar panel provider, we will be requesting support from AB RENEW WI Solar, MadiSUN Backyard, and Focus on Energy Commercial. 

Installing something heavy on our roof turns out to not be a walk in the park; it requires coordination with a number of contractors. The TBE team, led by Dan Esser as project manager, includes Stefanie Kushner and Facilities Coordinator Steven Gregorius, in collaboration with the House Committee, the Environment and Climate Change Action Team, and the CNA Task Force. This team is (literally) laying the foundation for a successful project through a number of related upgrades. This means replacing parts of our aging roof, some of which is 27 years old, at a cost of approximately $100,000 starting this spring. Some HVAC rooftop units and duct work will have to be lifted and new rubber installed underneath. Space in the building will also be needed to house inverters that convert energy generated to usable energy (DC to AC). Thanks to the generous help of TBE Sisterhood, this space has already been secured. 

The end goal is for 189 solar panels to be online by fall 2023, after a net investment by TBE/Goodman Foundation of approximately $150,000 for solar panel installation and connection to the MG&E grid. Recoupment of this investment through energy savings is projected to take about 12 years. 

Our commitment to tikkun olam also includes an evaluation by Richard Peidelstein, congregation member and expert in building energy efficiency, to identify ways to optimize our HVAC system. From his home, Richard has been able to remotely diagnose our energy efficiency performance and identify actions we can take to improve. 

This is all good news—knowing the problem is a great start for addressing it. And our strong community of staff and volunteers is up to the challenge. As Dan says, “spending up to $300,000 is a big deal.” We have no doubt that with his commitment and strong support from the TBE staff and community every penny will be invested wisely, with big returns. 

“Protecting Our Democracy”: Social Action Shabbat and Dinner

02/24/2023 10:03:35 AM


“Protecting Our Democracy” is the topic for this year’s Social Action Shabbat on March 31. Our speaker will be Dan Lenz, staff counsel at Law Forward in Madison. Dan will talk about what is and is not working in our democracy today, threats that he sees on the horizon, things we can look forward to, and what we can do to strengthen democracy and our political institutions in Wisconsin. Dan came to Law Forward in 2021 with over a decade of litigation experience. He has worked on cases involving ballot access, administrative law, and responding to sham election investigations.
Dan grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, attending Oak Park Temple B’nai Abraham Zion and Habonim Dror Camp Tavor. He moved to Madison in 2003 and now calls it home, living on the East Side with his wife Lisa. In his free time, Dan volunteers for various festivals, is on the board of the SASY Neighborhood Association, bikes around town, and sees as much live music as he can.

Since opening their doors in 2020, Law Forward has engaged in crucial fights for ballot access, led the fight for fair redistricting, protected separation of powers, advocated for the judiciary’s constitutional role, and convened broad coalitions to resist election subversion and ensure fair, free elections. 

Prior to services, the Social Action Committee is delighted to invite TBE members of all ages to a very special Shabbat dinner starting at 6:00 pm. The dinner will be catered by Awa Sibi, the owner of Les Delices de Awa. The menu will be Awa’s signature grilled chicken, jollof rice with mixed vegetables, a tomato-based vegetable stew, and couscous. Water, sparkling water, and red and white wine will also be served. Dessert will be offered during the oneg following services, including items from Just Bakery. Cost is $25 for adults (13+) and $10 for kids age 12 and under. Register for the dinner here

Awa emigrated from the Ivory Coast and launched her catering business in 2018. Her menus feature items from her native Côte d’Ivoire, as well as Senegal, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, and the Mediterranean. She developed her passion for cooking spending time in her family kitchen with her mother, making flavorful meals that brought joy to the table. Awa’s business was one of the first recipients of a grant from the Urban League’s Together We Build Wealth Fund for Black entrepreneurs. Read more about Awa in this article from the Wisconsin State Journal

Please register here by March 16 to join us for dinner. 

Mitzvah Day Registration Is Open! Many Ways to Get Involved in Our Day of Service and Community

02/23/2023 04:47:05 PM


Often, we refer to a mitzvah as a “good deed,” but mitzvot (plural) literally translated means “commandments,” the deeds that Jewish people are required to do. The idea of mitzvot puts the emphasis on action: not just positive thoughts or wishes, but conscious acts of empathy and kindness. 

A duty to action, g’milut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness), and tikkun olam (repairing the world) as we strive to be menches (good or righteous people)—that is what Mitzvah Day is all about. We’ll spend the day getting to know each other better across generations as we work together for the greater good of the Madison community and the world. Acts of g’milut chasadim are central to Judaism. We should do g’milut chasadim without anticipation of receiving something in return. 

Picture yourself knitting at Café Panim or painting the walls at Just Bakery. Imagine writing letters to veterans or soldiers or to children in Israel. Maybe you can see yourself cooking at the Ronald McDonald House, cleaning up the shore of Lake Wingra, or providing manicures and visiting with seniors at Capitol Lakes. These are a few examples of projects you can register for. Registration is first come, first served, so please register early and let Aleeza know if your plans change.

One of the most basic mitzvot is tzedakah (charity), or giving to those in need. In the Torah, God tells the children of Israel that giving to the needy is akin to giving directly to God. In the weeks leading up to Mitzvah Day, you will have a chance to participate in a collection drive for diapers, toiletries, food, school supplies, and yarn. Some of these items will be used in projects, such as the school supplies in refugee kids’ welcome bags, or they will be donated directly to partner organizations such as the Mt. Zion Food Pantry or Village Diaper Bank. We’re also doing a friendly competition among our Religious School grades to help collect some of these items. Learn more on what we’re collecting and join us in doing this mitzvah together.

Several Mitzvah Day projects will help repair our physical world, while others will emphasize social relationships and inclusion. We will participate in outdoor cleanups and gardening, make blankets for kids in hospitals, cook meals to be distributed by the Catholic Multicultural Center, help organize the GSAFE offices, and more. These are all fantastic projects that rejuvenate our physical environment or make connections with people who may feel isolated or in need of human contact.

The biggest mitzvah of all is to save a human life. To save one life is as if you’ve saved the world. Be The Match will be available on Mitzvah Day to help those ages 18–35 swab their cheeks and be added to a registry that is searched when an individual needs a life-saving stem cell transplant. Get swabbed in the morning during Religious School/Café Panim or in the late afternoon at our Social Justice Fair. Even if you are not 18–40, there are two ways you can help with this. First, sign up as one of the volunteers to help register people during Mitzvah Day (training provided). Second, share this important opportunity with others and have come to Temple anytime from 3:00 to 5:30 pm, when this opportunity is open to the public. Please help spread the word. 

Our Social Justice Fair from 3:00 to 5:30 pm is open to the public, so please invite your friends to come and support the nonprofit organizations selling their products in the Weinstein Community Court, including ArtWorking (, Just Bakery (, and Porchlight Products ( For details please visit our Social Justice Fair page. As you finish your afternoon projects please come stop by the Social Justice Fair, then join us for dinner.

Thanks to our Youth Education Committee for coordinating lunch for our Religious School families, with pasta and sandwiches donated by Adamah and Great Dane. Students are encouraged to write a letter to students at our sister congregations in Israel during lunch as well.

We’ll end our day of service together in community in the Swarsensky Social Hall for dinner. We’ll reflect on the day, share meaningful moments, and schmooze with friends over pizza donated by Rocky Rococo. Thanks to TBE Sisterhood for helping with dinner. 

Please see the TBE calendar for full project details and registration. Questions? Contact Aleeza A. Hoffert, program coordinator, at or 608-238-3123, or one of our Mitzvah Day chairs: Lynn Renner, Linda Reivitz, and Staci Rieder.

Company or Organization Help Needed to Host a Summer Intern 

02/22/2023 08:33:52 AM


Could you help host a summer intern from the Boys & Girls Club at your company or organization? For the third year, the Jewish Federation of Madison has awarded Temple Beth El's Racial Justice Action Team a grant to help us place high school and college students served by the Boys & Girls Club to experience an internship to learn valuable job skills. According to Jewish tradition, this is the highest form of tzedakah: teaching someone to become self-sufficient. Companies and organizations can select whether to have a high school or college student and may host the student for six, seven, or eight weeks, up to 20 hours/per week.  Students are paid $15/hour, usually paid by the host site, but grant funds can be used to subsidize some of the costs.  Even if you can't host a student, perhaps you'd like to help contribute to the cost of a student at an employment site. To explore whether this opportunity is a good fit for your work site, or to contribute, please contact Betsy Abramson, 608-332-7867 or

Sponsorship Opportunities: A Program for Partnerships

02/06/2023 12:40:52 PM


TBE leaders have been exploring ways to increase revenue and decrease costs. One innovative approach that we are excited to pursue is to leverage our impactful communication channels to connect our community with organizations and vendors that share Temple Beth El’s principles and vision. After carefully researching other organizations that do this, and learning that many businesses look for these opportunities, we developed an annual sponsorship program.

A business or organization can choose between two levels of sponsorship, offering different ways to share their website, contact information, and logo with our community, through TBE’s print and online communications. See our sponsorship form to learn more about the levels and benefits of this program.

We are excited to launch this program to partner with businesses and organizations and share their information with our community. If you know of an organization or business that may be interested, please contact Stefanie Kushner (

Endowment for Spiritual Leadership

02/06/2023 12:32:39 PM


Thank you to all TBE members who have donated to the Endowment for Spiritual Leadership. Ninety-three households had donated as of January 22, for a total of $4.7 million in pledges. We have received $2.6 million in donations already! To be successful in reaching our $8 million goal, we need 100% participation from the Temple Beth El community. We are proud to say that we have 100% participation of the TBE Board of Trustees; we appreciate all the gifts our leaders share with TBE.

“We made our donation in honor of Rabbi Jonathan Biatch. He has been such an important part of our family’s life: from officiating our wedding to helping Melissa convert to Judaism, from baby naming ceremonies and very soon b’nai mitzvahs, Rabbi Biatch has been a steady, warm, and stimulating presence for us. We appreciate his thoughtful and progressive approach and are continually inspired by his actions and his words. We understand that this kind of leadership cannot be taken for granted, and we believe that it is our turn to contribute something extra to promote sustainable leadership into the future.” 
—Lonnie and Melissa Berger

We recognize that TBE members have questions about the endowment. Last month, we mailed a brochure and reply card to households that have not yet donated, answering many of the questions that we have received. We hope that this information helps members make this important giving decision. You can see the brochure here

“As those before us have helped establish the foundation for supporting our spiritual leaders, we feel it is important to contribute toward strengthening our community at this time.”
—Betsy Abramson and David Seligman

With your support we will reach our goal of 100% community participation by June 2023. Pledges can be paid over several years. If you have any questions about the endowment or ways to donate, please contact Stefanie Kushner (

Thank You for Renewing Your Membership

02/06/2023 12:19:48 PM


By Stefanie Kushner, executive director

As membership renewals have come in for 2023, we are grateful for all the Temple Beth El members who continued their memberships, and we welcome the new members who have joined us in the last month!
We received many renewals before the December 31 deadline for choosing a contribution amount. This year’s renewal process included applying a 10% increase for the automatic renewals that were completed at the beginning of 2023. This increase goes a long way toward helping us meet rising costs. I appreciate everyone’s understanding of this new approach, and I’m gratified by the positive response. This truly helps support TBE’s vision. 

The number of households actively renewing by December 31 increased from last year, and those renewals included an increase in contributions! Over 60% of our community actively renewed their membership (up from 40% from last year). The households that renewed by December 31 and increased their contributions had an average increase of 14%. Thank you!

In January we automatically renewed the rest of the congregation, and January statements included a reminder of the 10% increase. Thank you for taking the time to read our communications throughout the fall that outlined these changes. We always appreciate your questions, and we hope that our transparency helped you prepare and make the best decisions for your household. We are pleased that so many congregants were supportive of the changes.

Membership contributions can be paid throughout the year. We ask that at least 50% be paid by August in order to receive your High Holy Day materials. You can set up automatic payments through your account on the TBE website or through your bank, or you can let Melissa Osborne know when you will be making payment(s).

As we communicated in our email about the staff transitions, starting in February we will be sending electronic statements only, unless you state that you prefer to receive a paper statement. If you would like to continue to receive a paper statement, please go to or contact Melissa Osborne (

Thank you for your continuing support of Temple Beth El. 

Wisconsin Supreme Court: Your Vote Is Needed on February 21

01/20/2023 11:49:29 AM


From the Social Action Committee

Your vote counts button​​​​​​​The February 21 primary is crucial to the race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Because there are two conservative and two liberal candidates running, and February's primary will advance the top two vote getters, it is possible that two candidates with the same judicial philosophy could advance to the April 4 spring election. Not many people vote in spring primaries, so the results can be affected by a small shift in voting patterns. 

The upshot is: if you want to make sure there is a candidate who reflects your values in April, you also need to vote in February!

What do you need to do to get ready?

• Make sure you’re registered to vote at your current address

• Request an absentee ballot if you will be out of town or busy that day

• Read nonpartisan candidate profiles and listen to candidate forums

• Learn how the court impacts issues you care about

To check your voter registration and request absentee ballots, check the state MyVote website.

For nonpartisan candidate profiles and links to candidate forums, try Ballotpedia.

For nonpartisan information about issues that may come before the Supreme Court, see Vote411. Important issues may include election administration, legislative redistricting, environmental regulation, government transparency, and reproductive health care.

Don’t put it off—if you’re going to be out of town, order your absentee ballot today! Municipal clerks also offer in-person early voting options in the two weeks prior to the election.

Rabbinic Transition: Frequently Asked Questions

01/13/2023 08:32:26 AM


If you have questions about the upcoming rabbinic transition that will take place in July 2024, check out the FAQ document on the Members Only page of our website. You must be logged in to your account to view this page. 

December 10, 2023 27 Kislev 5784