Letters & Announcements from Rabbi Weiner

Last Updated 5/21/2024In Current

May 19 - Gala Remarks

One of the most frequent questions I've received over the past several months has been some version of, "It is okay to...?" or "Can we really...?":  Remember that October 7th was not just a day of horrific events in Israel, but Simchat Torah, so we had to make the decision to go on with our celebration--to dance joyfully with the Torah scrolls--even as this events continued to unfold.  That same question came up last week, on Yom Ha'atzmaut, and we, similarly, decided, even in the midst of the awful and complex reality and the thoughts and feelings we are carrying in response to it--the anxiety, fear, anger, concern, distress, and shame--to go ahead with our dancing.

The question reminds me of a multi-paneled, Sunday morning color cartoon that my mom has framed and hanging on the wall of her house, and which I have admired now for several decades.  A grandfather is sitting on the stoop of his house with the newspaper he has been reading held loosely at his knees, and an upset look on his face.  In the next panel, his grandson walks by with a big smile on his face, and the grandfather says: "Why are you so happy this morning?"  The grandson says: :"Oh, no reason."  The grandfather says: "Good.  It's okay to be happy, so long as you know there's no reason for it."

This idea of "no reason" or "no good reason" actually has a Hebrew term for it, which goes all the way back to a significant passage in the Talmud.  The word is "hinam", which means "for nothing" or, in Modern Hebrew, "free, no cost."  It appears in the legend about what brought down the Second Jewish Commonwealth--what weakened the society to such an extent that the Romans were able to conquer and destroy it.  The answer is: "sinat chinam"--baseless hatred--or hatred "for no good reason."  Now, there are often pretty good reasons for animosity and aggression, even as we struggle with ourselves to prevent them for taking us over entirely, so I like to think that the hinam in this phase--the no good reason--doesn't so much mean that there was never any cause, so much as that the society allowed hatred to be the emotional valence that was pervasive, that was the default setting, such that it was always what people settled back on the basis of their own inertia--hinam--for no reason.

This story also reminds us that this moment we are now in is not the only trouble, of course, that Jews have ever faced.  We have a rich history of summoning spiritual resources to respond to challenges, and one of my favorite teachers in this regard is, of course, Rebbe Nahman of Bratlav.  He's the one who said that thing about all the world being a narrow bridge, and not allowing fear to become your hinam, your default.  But he also had another famous saying: mitzvah gedolah lihiyot b'simcha.  It's a great mitzvah to be in simcha, to rejoice.

It is a mitzvah--a social or ethical responsibility--to cultivate simcha.  This isn't as simple or saccharine as always being in a good mood, but refers to the cultivation of an attitude towards life through which joy is persistently available "for no good reason"--simchat hinam--even, really especially, in times when it might feel that there is nothing to celebrate.

We will speak tonight about our children, and what we want to offer them.  Perhaps this is the best gift we can really hope to offer them--an atmosphere of simchat hinam--joy as a default capacity, whether there seems to be a reason for it or not.

So, as we gather for this gala evening, I want to tell you that not only "can we", but, in fact, we have to!  After all, it's a mitzvah.  

May 15 - Gala Weekend!

Dear friends,

I am looking forward to the celebration of the strength of our community and its vision for the future, which will take place this upcoming weekend.

We'll begin on Friday night with our musical Shabbat Ne'imah, and an honoring of JCA volunteers and communal supper.

On Shabbat morning, our main service will feature a special ritual moment and d'var Torah from Amy Rothenberg, as she celebrates the significant milestone of 100 days post stem cell transplant, and our monthly Renewal Service will also be taking place.

Then, on Sunday afternoon, we will gather for our annual Gala!  There are still a few tickets available, so please contact the office or fill out the form below if you'd like to come.

As you know, our gala fundraising this year is to benefit our Energy Transition Project--to electrify the buildings heating and cooling as we also install a solar canopy in the parking lot.  I'm excited that we are nearing the 75% mark of our fiscal goal--which means there is only 25% to go.  If you have not already done so, please consider donating to this campaign.

Click here if you would like reserve tickets to the Gala or make a donation to the Energy Transition Project (it's the same form!)

See you soon!

shalom,
RBW  

May 7 - Rabbi's Remarks from Town of Amherst American Jewish Heritage Month Event

Thank you, and welcome to all who are assembled here today.

This is the third or fourth time I have had the pleasure of being here for this event. Thanks to the Town Council both for honoring our American ethno-religious community in this way, and for being the ones who first brought it to my attention that such a thing as American Jewish Heritage Month existed at all. We got May!

As in past years, I reflect at this time on the meaning of being American to so many Jews. As I have in past years, I recognize how much this country has meant to us as a place of refuge and opportunity. I acknowledge the indigenous people who were dispossessed in its founding and its legacy of slavery and racism, even as I acknowledge that if it had not been here I and so many other Jews would likely never have existed, having been ourselves the victims of oppression and genocide elsewhere.

I also think of my grandfather, Norman Gill, z”l, who, more than any other Jew I can think of, cherished the ideals and values on which this country was founded, and worked, as I would like to as well, to ensure these are the values and ideals it ultimately realizes. Because democracy, multiculturalism, civic and social freedom are good in and of themselves, and they have been about as good for the Jews, as we say, as any other socio-governmental system we can look to in our history.

These are, of course, challenging times for us—and for many others. We do, indeed, face a resurgence of antisemitism—a word I use in the absence of a more precise descriptive analysis—from many sides and quarters. We are disturbed by the reemergence of certain familiar kinds of chauvinism on the Right, even as we see some of its purveyors purporting to take on some of our causes in service of their own objectives. And—and here, in this place, I know I must tread even more carefully—we are concerned, many of us are, anyhow, by words and actions that emerge from the progressive Left.

There are really very few Jews in the world. It's funny to me, let's say, that I sometimes have to remind people of that fact. There are less than 20 million of us, and, for the most part, we are in two places. We are here, and we are there. Here and there, because there are really only two strategies that have proved even moderately successful at saving Jewish life in the late 20th century and up till now—American democracy, however compromised, and the uneasy and unstable compromise of nationalism and democracy that continues to stagger along in Israel. These are the two places where most Jews live, in roughly equivalent numbers, and to be a Jew with any sense of Jewish collectivity means, as I have said, to be here and there.

This does not mean one thing to all of us. The sensibilities that emerge from being here and there range across a spectrum of opinion. But polling continues to demonstrate that most of us still feel this sense of investment, even as we remain committed Americans, and so this time has been uniquely challenging to us. We wrestle with the tensions between our cherished values of democracy and multiculturalism, and our yearning for the survival of our only nation. And we struggle with the way that the battle over global attitudes towards one tiny little country and its obvious and legitimate discontents often comes without any form of understanding or respect for the complexities of identity and attitude that we have, really, no choice but to carry within us.

I'm not here to adjudicate these matters, or to advocate for one position or another. There is, as I have said, a broad spectrum of opinion even within our ranks, as you may have noticed, and I honor and recognize the integrity of the various positions we have staked out. And, really, that's not what this ceremony is about, but rather to celebrate that we are American Jews, loyal to our country, aspiring to the realization of its highest values, and proud of the contributions we have made to its well-being.

But, again, these are challenging times for us, as the pains and vulnerabilities of our identity become, day-in-and-day-out, intense battlegrounds in the national and global response to truly brutal world events.

And, again, I am not here to advocate or adjudicate, but only, on this day when we are grateful that the Town of Amherst has taken a moment to appreciate us and who we are, to offer this truth of the experience of most American Jews, as a plea for a modicum of understanding.

Thank you.

April 18 - Gala!

Dear friends,

I am very much looking forward to celebrating our second annual Gala with you in May!  Especially in the midst of these difficult times, it will be a welcome relief to give ourselves permission to celebrate our connections to each other, and the community we hold so dear.

Last year's event was retrospective, with moving reminisces and testimonials from former rabbis and elders. This year we will set our sights on the future, by celebrating--and fundraising!--for the JCA's Energy Transition Project, which represents a commitment to good stewardship for the sake of our next generations, as well as a sound investment in our financial well-being.  

Hopefully, you've had a chance to learn about the direction this project is taking--both the updating of our HVAC and kitchen appliances to electric from the current gas systems, and the installation of a solar canopy in our parking lot.

To read the FAQ that was sent out to the JCA community about this project, please go to: bit.ly/energyfaq

We know this cannot be the sum total of our collective effort to address the climate crisis.  The JCA is, and will continue to be, actively engaged in advocating for the further greening of the grid. And, at the same time, building electrification is a climate solution that by definition has to be undertaken by every individual building owner and so is an immediate impact our community can have--both on the JCA campus, and, hopefully, also by inspiring member households to follow suit.

I'm pleased to report that fundraising for this project is off to a promising start.  Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, there is no cost to the JCA for the solar portion of this project.  In order to fully implement the electrification of the building, we have initiated a capital campaign to raise $200,000.  Amazingly, through an initial outreach we have already raised $92,339 from 28 donors!

We hope that by the time the Gala rolls around--on May 19th--we will be celebrating having made it the rest of the way.  Please consider giving generously to this campaign!  

I also want to take this opportunity to remind you that the whole Gala weekend is an opportunity to participate in this celebration of the JCA, whether you are coming to the dinner or not.  Particularly, the Friday night preceding the event will feature our musical Shabbat Ne'imah, with a special honoring of JCA volunteers!

I look forward to sharing these events--and this accomplishment--with you.

b'shalom,
RBW

Click here to buy tickets for the Gala and/or make a donation to the Energy Transition Project

March 29 - Passover

Dear friends,

We had a lot of fun on Purim, and now we turn our attention toward Passover, and the experience of liberation.

Though it's still a few weeks out, you probably know that, of all the Jewish holidays, Passover is right up there in terms of how much preparation it calls for, so I'm glad to be sharing this information with you with plenty of advance notice!

First, there are a few opportunities I'd like you to bear in mind as we approach the holiday:


*Passover Community Materials Share Out
Shabbat, April 6th, after kiddush

On behalf of the Adult Education Committee, Jane Gronau and Ruth Love Barer are leading this first-of-its-kind (at the JCA) chance to offer and receive new materials and inspiration for your Passover seders.  The organizers say: "This is really an opportunity to gather, to meet, and to share some of things that we have used at our own seders that others might be interested in.

They ask you to please register for the program through the Adult Ed spring 2024 registration, and a week or so ahead of the program they will reach out and ask you to send the resources you are planning to share.  They will make photocopies of all the resources for all participants to be able to take them home.

Click here to register!


*Mechirat Chametz (Selling of Chametz)
by Friday morning, April 19th

As we rid our houses of leavened bread and related products in  our Passover "spring cleaning", we invite you, first of all, to consider donating your unopened, non-perishable food items to the purpose of feeding the hungry in our midst, by bringing them to the JCA, for collection and distribution to the Amherst Survival Center.  You may also consider making a financial donation, in the spirit of the special tzedakah that is given at Passover to feed the hungry, directly to the survival center, or to some other organization that is addressing famine and food insecurity, whether here in our town, in our country, or in the world-at-large.

There is also the tradition of participating in a symbolic "sale" of whatever chametz may remain in your possession, so that it is not accounted to your ownership over the period of the holiday when it is forbidden.  This is a time-honored, and somewhat charming, Jewish legal fiction that forms an important part of some people's ritual observance.

If you are interested in assigning me as your agent for the sale of your chametz to a non-Jewish person:

Please click here to fill out the form.
I will take care of the rest!  

Note that participation in this custom also sometimes comes with the giving of a modest donation to the synagogue. though this is not mandatory.  


*Home Seder Hospitality Matchmaking

Toward the beginning of the seder, we say, "Let all who are hungry come and eat, let all who need a place to celebrate come and join us.:  Therefore, in addition to the mitzvot of feeding the hungry mentioned above, we also try out best to make sure everyone in our community has a place to celebrate the seder.

Between now and, oh, let's say April 15th, please reach out to me ([email protected]) either if you need a place for one of the seders, or if you have a place to offer.

Please indicate one or the other, as well as which of the two seders, and how many places you need, or how many you have to offer--as well as any other information you think it would be helpful for me to bear in mind when making these matches.


I also want to share with you some information about how we will be observing the holiday collectively at the JCA:

*JCA Communal Second Seder
Tuesday night, April 23rd, 6pm

Once again, I am delighted to be hosting a second seder in the JCA social hall, one that combines ritual observance, meaningful explorations of the strands of liberation needed in our time, fine dining, and fun singing.  It will be suitable for all ages, and I'm excited to be joined this year by a whole bunch of members of my own family, which will hopefully lend the affair an even more homey (and boisterous?) spirit than it normally has! 

Please register in advance, as seating is limited.

You can also join in for the ritual elements of this seder through the regular JCA service Zoom link.


*Passover services
Tuesday, April 23rd, Shabbat April 26-7, Monday April 29th

Please join us for the synagogue services that accentuate the experience of the holiday, including the celebratory recitation of the Hallel psalms, Yizkor memorial prayers, readings from the Torah of the Exodus story, and the traditional chanting of the romantic/erotic poetry of the Song of Songs...did that last one get your attention?  ;-)

Special holiday services will take place on the morning of the first and seventh days of the holiday, April 23rd and 29th, beginning at 10am.  The service on the 29th is the one that will include Yizkor.

Shabbat services on the 26th and 27th, will also feature special elements to indicate the celebration of the holiday. 

All of these services will be hybrid, as usual--you may attend in person or join through the regular JCA-services Zoom link.


Finally, I want to let you know about a very special way that members of our Tikkun Olam Committee are drawing a connection between the themes of Passover and the social justice issues of our time.

*Crying in the Wilderness: An Immigrant's Journey in Detention, photographs and presentation by Becky Field, Anchor House of Artists, New England Visionary Arts Museum
April 28-May 24 2024

Members of the regional working group Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice are inviting us to  connect Passover with today's immigrants through this traveling photography/poetry exhibit.  

Please click here for more information about this stirring exhibit.

----

I am very much looking forward to celebrating Passover with you this year in one, some, or all of these wonderful ways!

b'shalom,

RBW

February 29 - Amherst Ceasefire Resolution

Dear friends,

I've been debating for some time how—or if—to communicate with you formally about the ceasefire resolution coming before Amherst Town Counsel this Monday night.

I say formally, because, though I haven't sent a message out about it till now, this is a matter I've been tracking very closely, and I've had a variety of conversations about it with members of our community, and with people in town.

I would imagine most of you already know about it, but, just in case, and briefly, the Counsel is poised to vote on a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, with additional provisions including a call for release of hostages, an end to the “siege” of Gaza, the prompt delivery of humanitarian aid to its beleaguered inhabitants, greater stringency placed on military aid to Israel, and language condemning the rise in Antisemitism and Islamophobia, and acknowledging that people here in Amherst (including within our own community) have been directly impacted by these events.

It's sponsored by two town counselors, and a local citizens group called Amherst4Ceasfire. The vote was supposed to take place last week but was postponed, and the venue was shifted, to accommodate the large numbers of people planning to attend and voice their opinions. (When I heard this last part, I was reminded of a famous line from the movie “Jaws”--”You're gonna need a bigger boat!”)

You can find a text of the current draft resolution here.

You may also know that a similar resolution passed in Northampton earlier this week, following the passage of resolutions in the east of the state, including in Cambridge and my old stomping grounds of Somerville.

Since I first learned of this, I have been staking out a position for myself—and for the JCA—of non-involvement. We similarly stayed out of the resolution that Amherst passed in October, condemning the Hamas attacks that initiated this horrific season of bloodshed. This remains the position I am taking personally, and advocating for the community, though this is, of course, distinct from any position or action individual community members might choose to take for themselves.

The reason for this is at least two-fold. On the one hand, I am dubious about the forays of our little town into matters of foreign policy (and assumed that the passage of the October resolution would inevitably lead to this moment we are now facing.) On the other hand, and I ask you to hear this with respect and good faith, I am aware that there are members of the JCA who have differing opinions about this resolution—some are opposed and some are in favor—and I have always prioritized the pastoral responsibility to maintain a safe Jewish home for all of our membership over the kind of overt political involvement that would lead some to question whether or not they are welcome in their own home.

I am aware that this position may be dissatisfying to many. Indeed, I would imagine there are both members upset that we are not taking up a clear position in support of the State of Israel and opposed to this divisive resolution—which they may also view, on some level, as antisemitic--and members upset that we are not using our collective voice to advocate for the relief of the unfathomable suffering being endured by Palestinians in Gaza, or to express concern, additionally, for the repercussions of this conflict on American politics.

If you would like to be in conversation with me about your advocacy for either of these stances, or some other area of dissatisfaction with the course I will continue to steer us on, I would welcome that conversation, so long as it is measured and respectful.

I am also aware that even as we don't take a formal position on this resolution, as the JCA, we will continue to wrestle with the reality of this moment, in all of its agonizing complexity.

I do believe we are witnessing a new era with regard to pro-Palestinian advocacy within the United States, and I can feel and understand how anxiety-provoking that is for those of us with a strong sense of connection to the State of Israel, especially in the aftermath of the horrific attacks of October 7th. It is very troubling to feel as if the world is turning against us, especially when this battle is brought right into—and outside of—our own town hall. It has the potential to strike at our very sense of security as Jews and as a Jewish community.

I do know that, before October 7th, we were struggling with the hard rightward turn of the Israeli government, and its implications for the nature of the State of Israel, and its treatment of the Palestinian people, and now we are being forced to navigate those concerns in an intensely polarized, and rhetorically (and sometimes physically) vicious environment—and one in which the suffering and death in Gaza is truly heart-rending, and the sense of threat to the Israeli population is very real.

We will continue to confront challenging moments like this town resolution vote, emerging out of the savage complexity of this painful era.

But, honestly, at the end of the day, I don't believe we are confronting a “yes or no” question, so much as the challenge and responsibility of continuing to navigate complexity together, as we advocate for the values that cut through this entire matter, whatever “side” you happen to be on: the search for security, peace, and justice for all, and the extension of respect and mutual understanding in our encounters with each other, as we wrestle over the terms by which these goals might be realized.

However the process goes, this coming Monday night, my fervent prayer will be that the people of this town manage to comport themselves with respect, dignity, and as much empathy as they can muster.

I hope it is clear that although we are not advocating a formal position on this vote, we are, as a community, calling for engagement—with each other, and with the underlying realities that have brought this particular vote into being. 

It is in that engagement that I remain committed to offering whatever leadership you will accept from me.

B'shalom,

RBW

January 25 - Undertaking a new/old Purim tradition at the JCA

Dear friends,

I am so pleased to let you know about a new/old Purim tradition we are undertaking this year!

You may know that there are four special mitzvot we perform on Purim--hearing the Megillah, eating a festive meal, giving tzedakah, and...sending Mishloach Manot, or special gift baskets of goodies shared between friends.

This year, we are offering a new opportunity to fulfill the fourth. The JCA will be preparing gift baskets for the entire community, and inviting you to donate money to help us in this undertaking. All member households will receive mishloach manot, whether or not a donation is made, though we are relying on community support to help make this engagement effort work, and donors will be listed on a card that will be included in the basket. We will also need volunteer help in putting the baskets together, which I'm sure will be a lot of fun.

There is also the opportunity to send mishloach manot, through the JCA, to folk in the wider world. One member of our organizing team has suggested that, in these difficult times, we might want to consider sharing the fun and generosity of this Jewish tradition with non-Jewish friends. 

In any case, I'm really pleased to see us developing this capacity within the JCA. It's something I've seen done in other Jewish communities, and I'm sure it will bring the same degree of delight and fellowship to ours!

chag sameach,
RBW

*To donate to the community initiative, or send a basket to friends and family outside of the JCA  click here!

*Purim Basket Assembly Volunteer Sign Up  click here! 

*For JCA members: all members will be receiving a basket - to request your basket be GLUTEN FREE  click here! 

January 4 - (Secular) New Year's Greetings

Dear friends,
Happy (secular) New Year! 

Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, famously described American Jews as living "in two civilizations", and, as such, we have two times in the course of a solar year when we flip the calendar. Though Rosh Hashanah comes with a greater degree of spiritual intensity, January 1st does, similarly, offer us the opportunity of a new beginning, as we square up for another jaunt through the Gregorian months. 

I certainly wish it were possible to simply leave our old troubles behind as we cross the date line, but we know it doesn't work that way. So, instead of a clean slate, we seek, instead, renewed fortitude to meet the challenges and opportunities that continue to confront us. I take particular encouragement from the fact the JCA is currently in a very strong place, and that, as its "sustaining partners", we are committed and prepared to lean into its rich array of offerings for solace and inspiration.

In the (secular) year ahead, we will continue to develop and consolidate our new administrative structure, seeking efficient and affirming collaboration between professional staff and volunteers, as we continue to ramp up our programmatic activity, ranging from deep learning, to profound spiritual practice, to meaningful social action.

In particular, I invite you to take note of a few upcoming programs that I am particularly excited about:

*My new slate of Lunch and Learn offerings is up and running. On Tuesdays and Fridays, we study Talmud by Zoom, from 12:30 to 1:30, which is a practice offering many intellectual and spiritual rewards. On Wednesdays, from 12:15 to 1:30, we have begun gathering, in person at the JCA and also by Zoom, to study works of Jewish short fiction. After four sessions, this has already become one of the highlights of my rabbinic week! Drop-ins are welcome for any of these offerings--no need to be a regular, if that doesn't work for you. I'd be very happy if you'd join me for a studious lunch break! 

*The JCA has benefited tremendously from the presence, over the past several months, of our rabbinic intern, Julia Spiegel. She will continue to remain connected to the JCA even after she departs for Israel later this month, but, prior to that, we have some very special opportunities to learn with her in person. 

This Weekend Julia will be offering a d'var Torah on Friday night, leading part of the service on Shabbat morning, teaching niggunim at Shabbat lunch, and offering another installation in her wonderful Beit Midrash series on Sunday morning.

Next Weekend I am very excited that, in addition to her Shabbat offerings, Julia will be facilitating a Sunday program on Talmud study, using the methodology of SVARA: A Traditional Radical Yeshiva, for which she serves as a teaching fellow. You know how much I love studying Talmud, and the SVARA method brings the practice to exhilarating life, and empowers, in particular, groups that have been historically marginalized to make it their own.

*On the Shabbat of January 19th and 20th, I am thrilled that we will be hosting A Shabbat of Learning with Rabbi Michael Strassfeld. Many of us know that Rabbi Strassfeld is a formative--almost legendary--thinker and educator in the modern progressive Jewish world. From The Jewish Catalogue, published 50 years ago, to his newest work "Judaism Disrupted: A Spiritual Manifesto for the 21st Century," he has provided innovative and provocative thought leadership, and pathfinding for meaningful Jewish practice. Please join us, in a couple of weeks, for spirited davenning, text study, divrei Torah, and a special conversation I will host with him about his new work, and its place in his broader legacy. 

*Finally (for now) I want to invite you, as well, to our community Tu b'Shvat celebration, which will take place on the late afternoon/early evening of Wednesday, January 24th, as we celebrated the birthday of the trees, and the divinely infused natural world that sustains us, with activities for all ages, cooking, conversation, and the special "fruit seder" that is the signature ritual act of the holiday.

I'm so pleased we have such a great line-up of programs with which to begin this new (secular!) year. I look forward to seeing you at any and all of these events.

b'shalom,

RBW

Energy Transition Fundraising CampaignUpdates on the JCA Energy Transition Fundraising Campaign
Letters from the President - 2024Board updates, new programs, community announcements
Tikkun OlamAnnouncements and Opportunities
Lunch & Learn MaterialsUpdated with reading materials for the coming week and an archive of past readings.