What’s In A Word?

Opinion by Bob Ritter

Some words are trivial, simply to serve their purpose in an overall line of communication. But there are some words that are powerful all by themselves. Such is the word which is the subject of this “President’s Article.” The word is FORGIVENESS.

A little over a month ago we gave particular attention to concepts associated with forgiveness during Selichot and the High Holidays. We dedicate our holiest ritual to the need to give and ask for forgiveness, and we associate forgiveness as being one of the quintessential qualities of the Holy One.

It’s not by coincidence that I chose this word. I’ve been thinking about why “forgiveness” is such an important concept for Vassar Temple since I was asked to be Vice President nearly 3 years ago. But I haven’t spoken of it much until recently, because we have many more pressing matters. Considerable progress has been made on many fronts!

As challenging as those matters are, they pale in comparison to the challenge we have with forgiveness. In my opinion, forgiveness is as important as our financial objectives, because ultimately our ability to do what is necessary to achieve lasting financial sustainability also requires us to find forgiveness.

Look up antonyms for “forgiveness” and you’ll find “blame, accusation, censure” and even” meanness.” All of which produce anger. These negative sentiments are not healthy for either our temple or the Jewish community.

You may wonder, where do I see problems with forgiveness? I will leave you, the readers, to look into your heart and answer that question.

When we fail to forgive we are trapped in the past, and holding on to old anger. It works like a self-fulfilling prophecy – because it closes our mind to any possible justifications for others’ actions. We invalidate them. And that only feeds our anger and raises the walls we need to overcome to find forgiveness.

In order to start to forgive, we first must recognize that we don’t forgive for the other person! We forgive for ourselves – for that which we value! Forgiveness sets us free and opens our mind to new possibilities and potential. It allows us to partner and solve problems together.

In addition, when we don’t forgive others we can’t love God to our fullest because part of us is occupied by anger. Perhaps the next time you recite the Shema, which calls us to love the Holy One completely, consider at that same moment the possible value in forgiving others so that you and Vassar Temple can move forward.

I believe the ultimate solutions to Vassar Temple’s greatest challenges, as well as the challenges facing the Reform movement in Dutchess County, depend on ALL of us being willing to forgive. I’ll close with the wisdom of Ann Landers who said, “Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”


The Secret Shabbat Blessing

Do you receive the Reform Judaism’s newsletter? They really have wonderful articles!

Here’s one that is precious, about the ones’ who are the most precious in our lives – our children. It’s called “Secret Shabbat Blessing: Why parents should bless their children.”

I encourage you to read it. My children are “all grown up” but in the not to distant future, G-d willing, my wife Mary and I will be grandparents, and we can look forward to both the receiving and GIVING blessings!

Blessing our children

Do Not Shy From Controversy

The world is full of controversial issues.  Issues that will not simply go away by ignoring them.  If we are concerned with their outcome because we have a stake in them, be it financially, politically, emotionally, or otherwise, then we need to take a position and work in what ever way we can and are comfortable to bring a peaceful and humane resolution. Ideally, a resolution is reached through dialogue, education, respect and sensitivity, and compromise. 

I believe the decision by the Presbyterian Church to divest of three businesses because of their relationship to Israel and the Palestinian cause is such an issue.  Recently I posted an article which appeared in Haaretz to our Temple Facebook page which was written by a past URJ President, Rabbi Eric Yoffie.  As most of you likely know, the current URJ President, Ric Jabobs, has also spoken out and written about how Church’s vote undermines Presbyterian-Jewish relations.  Others present a view which supports the actions of the JVP organization and their promotion of the divestiture. 

One Rabbi, A. Hirsch posted an open letter expressing great pain and supreme disappointment over the Church’s action. He took the church’s decision firmly and critically to task.

As a temple with an active adult education learning program, and a congregation which embraces life-long learning, Vassar Temple need not shy away from controversial topics.  In fact, we often meet such issues head-on through adult education classes, rabbi sermons, private conversations, and also use of social media.  Such is ONE of the ways to use a blog.  To bring to light issues which do concern us in hopes of fostering constructive interactions.  The blog is a better place for this post, so I will be removing the Facebook post.   

This year Vassar Temple will present an adult education lecture series on the subject of Borders.  While the curriculum and details are not yet available, I encourage our members and friends to come to this free program and see & hear first hand how Vassar Temple approaches controversial topics in the most healthy and interesting way!    


Chavurah – A Meaningful Way to Youth Engagement

At the 2013 URJ Bienneial one of the big take away themes was to practice what URJ President Rabbi Ric Jacobs calls “Audacious Hospitality.” This entails exceeding the conventional expectations of welcoming our audience, as well as expanding the audience we seek to reach. A second take away theme from the conference was that we need to engage our young adults (20s-30s) – the future – in ways that work for them and provide a meaningful Jewish experience. These young adults do not care about our “bricks & mortar,” temple budgets, or membership! The synagogue has to go to them! The third take away is that the URJ and the HUC (Hebrew Union College) must be rooted in the core – the Torah!

As an active and engaged participant at the Biennial I searched for ideas and ways to move these points into action. I wondered if there was a way to combine all these take away concepts into one new program for Vassar Temple. At one of the breakout sessions we heard about a temple in Los Angelos that reached out to young adults by going to where they are and starting a Chavurah.

A chavurah or havurah (חבורה Hebrew: “fellowship”, plural chavurot) is a small group of like-minded Jews who assemble for the purposes of facilitating Shabbat and holiday prayer services, sharing communal experiences such as lifecycle events, or Jewish learning. Chavurot usually provide autonomous alternatives to established Jewish institutions and Jewish denominations. Most chavurot place an emphasis on egalitarianism in the broad sense (of which gender egalitarianism is one piece), depending on participation by the entire community rather than top-down direction by clergy. / Source: Wikipedia.

The more I thought about it the more I began to think this might work for Vassar Temple and it was worth a try. Then I asked myself, where are the young people in Dutchess County? What are the happening scenes! BEACON! (And Poughkeepsie.) Here’s how it might work.

Once a quarter, or maybe a month if there’s enough interest, young Jewish people and their friends come together on a Friday evening at some “hot spot” for a pleasurable Shabbat dinner. They pay their way, but maybe Vassar Temple sponsors a guest speaker or entertainer. No temple affiliation or membership is required!

Photo Source

If the experience is enjoyable, as word spreads, new faces will appear. New friendships will be formed. Opportunities and positive results will happen. If we have interesting and vibrant guests leading the service, and if social justice causes that the URJ is famous for supporting are brought to light, along with Jewish culture, the young adults will have a meaningful experience. When that happens the word will spread and the circle will grow! And, when all that happens, Vassar Temple will be serving a critically important part of the Jewish community in Dutchess County.

We can get out the gate by identifying a few locations for our first couple Chavurah gatherings. Finding a great speaker and/or entertainer who will also make a super marketing “headliner” to who attract the audience. Creating some great looking flyers and putting them up and getting them out there. Creating a Facebook Group page and using Facebooks targeted advertising to reach the exact audience we’re talking about. Using publicity to get the story out into the local beat. Finding some young adults in the Beacon area who believe in what the Reform movement stands for and have positive memories of Jewish camp and want to make new friends and would be willing to be young leaders of the new Chavurah. And, just talking it up!

At this point this is just an idea. Something for our Temple’s Board discuss.

Bob Ritter

Food For Thought

Perla recently sent me an article and asked me to post it to our Vassar Temple blog. Like Perla, I found Rabbi Schuck words and thoughts very interesting, to say the least. It gave me pause!

It is written by David Schuck who is the rabbi of the Pelham Jewish Center in Pelham Manor, NY. He is also an adjunct lecturer in the Professional and Pastoral Skills Department of the Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary. David was a participant on an AJWS Rabbinic Delegation service learning trip to Ghana, and was a Jewish Service Corps educator in Mumbai, India, through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Many of Vassar Temple’s fund raising and charitable efforts relate to hunger. E.g. Crop Walk, Lunch Box, Can Jam, etc.. When it comes to world hunger, Rabbi Schuck gives us food for thought!

See for yourself and you be the judge. Follow this link: http://ajws.org/what_we_do/education/publications/dvar_tzedek/5773/pinchas.html?autologin=true&utm_source=education&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20130624-E-DT

How Do You Honor A Man?

How do you honor a man? How do you honor the memory of a person who has passed away?  I believe you do so the moment you ask the question. The desire to honor them is an honor in itself!  The answer to the question is where it gets more tricky.

The answer of how to honor someone can be simple and find form in infinite ways. So when a good idea comes forward it can just be a matter of choice, action, and follow through. Such is the case with a recent effort that was seeded by the Vassar Temple Men’s Club.  

When Bob Abrams presented the idea of buying a bench on the Dutchess County Rail Trail in honor of past Temple President Seth A. Erlebacher the Men’s Club committee reached a decision to move forward without delay. The goal was clear, within reach, and a fine way to create a place where we could memorialize Seth.  

The call went out for donations thanks to the efforts of Men’s Club co-chairs Dave Wolf and Jeff Brenner. The Vassar Temple Sisterhood was asked to join the effort, and the goal was reached quickly.

Soon, on a new section of the Dutchess County Rail Trail, a bench with a plaque will be put in place. And once it is Vassar Temple will have an intimate dedication service.  We will honor Seth in this way.  

Honoring a person does not need to be expensive. It doesn’t require much money and it needn’t be fancy. It is the act of honoring someone that is the honor in itself.  When we recall a person with the desire to say their name and pay respect, we honor them and their family.  

So if you happen to be on the Rail Trail in the future and come by Seth’s bench, please take a moment to recall a memory of Seth. By doing so you are helping us to answer the question of how do we honor the man. 

Note: An announcement of the dedication service for Seth’s bench is forthcoming.