Shalom from your Board of Directors
It’s hard to believe that we have gone through the whole cycle of Torah readings and Jewish holidays since Hebrew Congregation of Somers first closed our doors due to the escalating pandemic in March 2020. But here we are - Purim just behind us and Passover just ahead - weary but hopeful that continued adherence to preventive measures and increasing availability of the vaccine will have us back on the road to normalcy soon.
We are certainly looking toward a time when we can be with one another in person, hug our family and friends, and start the cycle of Torah and holiday celebrations together at the synagogue. Until then, HCS staff and lay leaders continue to plan a robust slate of programs, services, and learning opportunities via Zoom, a format once daunting that now allows us to flourish. And there’s truly something for everyone!
Film lovers can join us for upcoming screenings of Purple (sponsored by Sisterhood) and Shared Legacies (sponsored by the Tikkun Olam committee) both of which will be followed up with guided discussions. Or perhaps you’ll tune into Modern Jewish Voices: A Three-Part Speaker Series, which we are cosponsoring with other Northern Westchester synagogues. For those of you who want something a little more hands-on, how about the Pickling Workshop HCS is co-hosting with Eden Village Camp, Hudson Valley’s farm-to-table Jewish organic sleepaway camp! Congregant Les Prusnofsky will be facilitating another session of his powerful "Grieving and Loss During the Pandemic" discussion group in the coming weeks and Rabbi Shoshana’s popular Jewish Ethics adult education series will pick up again in April. Please check recent and upcoming “HCS Happenings”, published every Wednesday, for all the details.
In the school our students are busy learning and making a difference with the advent of “Tikkun Olam Clubs”. Please reach out to Education Director Jill Liflander at email@example.com if you’d like to discuss becoming a “repair the world” mentor for one of these groups, each of which is tackling a different issue close to the hearts of its student members. Rabbi Shoshana and Cantor Ruth are working with 5th-7th grade students in preparation for their participation in the April 17 Shabbat morning service. Schoolwide, every class is learning about the history, traditions, and liturgy of Passover in its own developmentally appropriate fashion. Save the date - Sunday, March 21 for our multigenerational Passover program. Be on the lookout for more detailed information about this and other ways our school and community at large will be celebrating chag.
Thanks to the hard work of President Vicki Prusnofsky and the Bylaw Revision Committee, the Board of Directors recently approved an updated version of this foundational document. In the coming weeks it will be made available to the entire congregation for review. There will be a vote to formally adopt these new bylaws at our Annual Congregational Meeting happening later this Spring (date TBD). Another group hard at work is our Reopening Committee. Soon they will share their recommendations for piloting outdoor services at the end of April or beginning of May. They are also starting to discuss, along with the Ritual Committee, how we will handle High Holiday services this Fall, and are considering a “hybrid” format, with many safety precautions in place. Other exciting news on the High Holiday front - - this year Rabbi Shoshana will be joined on the bimah (virtual or otherwise) by Cantorial Soloist Raechel Rosen. Ms. Rosen is a singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and music teacher who is currently studying to become a Cantor at ALEPH Ordination. We are looking forward to all the musical support and spirituality she will bring to our High Holiday services.
It is clear that just like Spring which is beginning to unfurl around us, our “little shul in the woods” is teeming with life and potential energy. It’s a wonderful time to become more involved or introduce someone new to HCS!
Wishing everybody a happy Passover/Chag Sameach/Zissen Pesach. May you and your loved ones find joy and meaning in this festival of freedom and rebirth.
Shalom from your Rabbi
3/11/20 Day 1 of staying home
THANKS. PRAISE. HOPE. REFLECT. CENTER.
Today, we give thanks and praise to the One who gives life, heals life, and animates all that lives.
One year ago. A whole new world began the day we made the gut decision to keep the kids home even though schools were open.
We have each brushed up against death - even our kids- and we have survived, changed. Not all of us survived. Many died. And of course, we aren’t out of the woods yet.
Tonight, we are having a small ceremony, and we will reflect around the bonfire on how we adapted, what we have learned, who and what we have lost. How are we walking in the world differently now? What needs to stay at the center? What needs to be changed?
We have begun preparing for Passover, for returning to the building with precautions, for Spring, Summer, and even for Fall. But are we preparing for the Book of Leviticus? The book of Leviticus will be our backdrop for exploring the above questions in the coming months.
Leviticus, Vayikra (and God called) is at the center of the Torah. Some resist it because of its black and white thinking, priests and animal sacrificing, seemingly totally irrelevant laws and rituals and of course, it’s blatant homophobia and sexism. Yet, Leviticus will provide the guidance we who have touched the liminal space between life and death most need. It will help us to keep centering what is most important and to keep healing. This is the spiritual function of the book. It’s all about life and death, what’s most important and how we change when it’s time to change.
In his book, “Leviticus: You Have No Idea” (recommended for HCS Torah study regulars!) Reconstructionist Rabbi Maurice Harris writes:
“Don’t get me wrong: I’m the first to acknowledge that there are many things about Life, God, and Truth that we understand today, but that Leviticus doesn’t understand. We understand, for instance, that men and women are spiritual equals, and that physical disability does not equal disqualification from spiritual leadership. We also understand menstrual blood, semen, and skin diseases mainly through the lenses of biology and medical science, and these systems of knowledge were not part of Leviticus’ worldview. And we understand God quite differently than the Levitical deity who appreciates the pleasing odors of the roasting meats of the sacrificial altar. But I keep coming back to Leviticus because there are also many things about Life, God, and Truth that Leviticus understands that we don’t understand, and that’s what makes it worth the effort. Leviticus understands that there is a sacred dimension to existence, that this sacredness permeates reality, and that we can receive or displace that energy depending on our actions. Leviticus understands that animals and humans share the life force, and that the taking of animal life for food deserves awe and ritual. Leviticus understands that ecosystems and economies need to function in cycles that are in some sort of balance, ensuring health for the land and basic fairness and compassion for the weakest members of society. Perhaps most striking of all, Leviticus understands us as God’s partners in creating a space for the Divine Presence to dwell on earth, and it sees us as having the free will to act in ways that support or hinder God’s ability to take root within us and among us.
See you around the bonfire/Torah study table! Much love, health and healing and a zissen Pesach!
L'chayyim, towards life, always,
Shalom from your Education Director
1) Memories of Shabbat- Saturday March 7, 2020
I was standing over the grey metal sink washing out a lunch dish when the phone rang. I remember the afternoon light illuminating the vine-like hanging plants in the kitchen window, and how my still-sweaty capoeira t-shirt clung to my sternum.
A call like this only came in on Shabbat when it was an emergency. I picked up the phone-it was Rabbi Shosh, and our co-presidents, Bob, and Vicki.
The Covid-19 super-spreader event in New Rochelle, NY had been unfolding around us all week and we had all been glued to the news. Our Hebrew School Purim Carnival was scheduled for the next day and our community Megillah reading in the sanctuary was scheduled for Tuesday night. So much work had gone into Purim planning; meetings and phone calls and emails and hamantashen orders and raffle baskets and carnival games and costumes and fundraisers and decorations and rehearsals….
Should we close the building? Should we go forward with Purim? I felt unsure about how to contribute to such a weighty decision. “I’m not an epidemiologist!” I sputtered. Synagogues in the region were split in their decisions to either go forward with Purim celebrations, or cancel.
We discussed this predicament for hours, but what we kept circling back to, over and over again, was the mitzvah of Pikuach nefesh, to save a life. “If one person gets sick from Purim--ONE PERSON--that’s one person too many,” we agreed.
We closed the building.
2) Shabbat- Saturday March 6, 2021 (364 days later)
I had been on edge for days, cleaning the house, writing emotional postcards to Hebrew School students and families, cooking chicken soup, and gathering fancy ginger-ales and popsicles for the potentially rocky recovery symptoms of the second Covid vaccine.
I ceremoniously adorned myself in blue clothing from head to toe, summoning the protective power of King David’s shield. I assembled: a blue tie-dyed flannel shirt from a friend that unbuttoned so that I could expose my left shoulder for the needle, a delicate ocean blue shawl knitted by another dear friend to wrap around my neck, the softest blue jeans that I owned-frayed at the knees, light-blue earrings, turquoise wool socks, an electric blue fuzzy hat.
Even with powerful blue ‘Magen David’ imagery to bolster my spirits, I sat nervously on the edge of my chair in the crowded interior room of St. Barnabus Hospital, waiting for the vaccine. I remembered that Ruth and Harold were planning to be at the hospital at around the same time (after Ruth concluded Shabbat morning services), so I asked a receptionist if I could poke my head around to the recovery area to look for them.
To my tremendous relief and delight, Ruth and Harold were sitting in the adjacent room for the mandatory fifteen minutes of recovery time. Ruth’s head was tilted back, her eyes closed, and Harold sat across from her. Of course, they were both masked. “Ruth! Harold!” I shouted into the corridor.
This was the first time in an entire year that we had seen each other in person. I was surprised how it wasn’t weird at all to finally see them face to face, but then I realized how much time we spend on Zoom together! We joked about how long all of our hair has grown, and I handed them fancy ginger-ales in a wrinkly grocery bag in case they felt nauseous on their long drive home.
It would have been so nice to hug them.
Soon enough, I thought.
Love, and a zissen Pesach,