Rabbi's Column

Rabbi's Column

It’s time to prepare for Pesach. Seems that there is more preparation for Pesach than for most holidays. In fact, much of the actual holiday is about the ways that we prepare.

So much to consider! There is cleaning and cooking and selecting a hagadah and considering the meaning of words we say each and every year, that take on new meaning each and every year.

Consider the words: “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” How do we honor this tradition? At TBT, we have a 2nd night seder that everyone is welcome to join. And though it is a catered event, with costs involved, we are emphatic that no one be turned away and so the Sharon Besser 2nd Night Seder Fund assures that “All who are hungry can come and eat.”

And yet – being provided one dinner isn’t enough for those on a subsistence budget. And so there is the annual TBT Food Drive that takes place from the 1st of April right up until the 1st Seder. Won’t you take part in it? Just pay attention when the Social Justice Committee asks for your contributions by going online and ordering fresh food to be delivered to the Branford Community Dining Room.

Cleaning for Pesach is like no other cleaning. Getting rid of all chametz requires emptying closets and refrigerators and assuring that not even one bread crumb escapes our brooms and sponges. It is the original “Spring Cleaning.” But those who think it is strictly a physical cleaning are mistaken. We rid ourselves of ‘chametz,’ which are any grains that contain leaven and are therefore ‘puffed up.’ So too, it is while on our hands and knees cleaning the floor, that it is the best time to consider the ways we ‘puff ourselves up,’ with pride and an inflated sense of self and lack of awareness about our weaknesses.

One of the most important lines in the Haggadah is “In every generation we are called upon to see ourselves as though we ourselves escaped from Egypt.” It is a line that shouts out to us today: remember where you came from! Remember that you came from slaves! Remember that you are a child of immigrants! And more: Remember that you yourself are an immigrant. Maybe, just maybe, if we can see ourselves as immigrants we will start treating others with more respect and dignity and welcome.

And one more final line in every Haggadah: “Next year in Jerusalem.” These words were never taken literally. Though it would surely be lovely to make a commitment to spend time in Jerusalem in the coming year, the phrase always reminded us of our hope in something greater than today, greater than the here and now. The Hebrew words “Yerushalayim” translate as “City of Peace.” Would that we could create that city of peace all over the world. What a soaring conclusion to Passover that would be.

My best to you for a zissen Pesach – a joyous and sweet Passover.

L’Shalom,
Rabbi Offner

Cantor's Column March 2019

IT’S A JUNGLE OUT THERE!

It’s that time when we come to the opposite end of the year from the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is the story of Esther and the whole Megillah. Yes, I'm talking about the festival of Purim.

On Purim, we can explore our inner personas and allow them to peek out through the different “masks” that we wear. We act silly and masquerade as many different things and sometimes reveal a piece of our hidden selves. Esther, the heroine of the story of Purim has a hidden side – the fact that she was Jewish. Why, even her Hebrew name, Hadassah, translates to hidden. We see people wearing costumes of all types.

In my former congregations, I had the opportunity to bring my theater experiences and apply them to the various Purim spiels to “kick things up a notch.” This year our Confirmation class, the Adult Choir, and other members of our Religious School will join together for an exciting take on the Purim spiel.

Join us on Wednesday, March 20th in the early evening – Dinner beginning at 5:15pm - and Purim Spiel at 6:00pm. All are invited! Bring a friend!

Please watch out for more information in the upcoming weeks. It's a jungle out there, and right now, I am looking for people to help with costuming, scenery, props, sound board, lighting as well as behind the scenes with make-up and a couple of hands helping with the kids. Please email me at cantor@tbtshoreline.org to let me know your interest(s).

This will be fun for all – the more the merrier!
Cantor Mark Stanton

Rabbi's Column February 2019

When you receive this SHOFAR, I will be away on a one-month sabbatical.

This being my 7th year at TBT, I can see the wisdom of the Torah, which teaches that the 7th year is a time for taking stock. While most sabbaticals are typically several months long, the Board and I are in full agreement that given the very full schedule of events at the synagogue, it is best to break up any sabbatical time into smaller parts. I therefore will be spending this month of February on sabbatical.

My best fantasy is to use the time for “R & R” – that is, READING and Relaxation. I have a book list that would take longer than a month but I am so grateful to have the time to dive in. Most of my reading list will serve to enrich my Adult Education teaching, and I would particularly invite you to consider, if you haven’t yet done so, enrolling for the April segment of my year-long Hartman Institute Course in “Jewish Values and the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict.”

If you can’t take the course, you might want to join in a couple of the reading assignments: ISRAEL: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn by Daniel Gordis, and Once Upon A Country by Sari Nusseibeh – to get just one important Israeli view and one important Palestinian view of the conflict.

Before I leave for sabbatical, my most important priority is to assure coverage for the congregation during the time that I will be away. Cantor Stanton and I have been meeting and going over all the details. He will be in charge of all clergy needs and I am glad to say, as you have seen in the past 7 months now, how very capable he is. I know he is ready and eager to step forward to cover for the month and I thank him deeply for that.

Of course, leading our congregation is a team effort and so I also want to thank our Administrator, Kim Romine, who loves our temple second-to-none, and cares for it constantly, always with zest and gusto. Administrative Assistant Bonnie Mahon is also stepping up and making sure that everything is seamless, as always.

I thank TBT President Jeff Babbin and the Board of Directors who have supported my having some time for spiritual replenishment. I want to assure you too that I am only a phone call away and that Jeff, the Cantor and the staff will be able to reach me if need be.

The months go by quickly; I am sure that I will be back in what will seem like a flash. At the same time, I hope something of this sabbatical will last forever.

Todah Rabbah – and see you in March, Rabbi

Rabbi's Column January 2019

As I think about the state of Israel and the state of Zionism today, I am reminded of that old joke about the 3 elderly folks who are sitting on the beach talking. One says: “Oy.” The other says “Oy vey.” The third says: “Oy vey iz mir.” Finally, they get fatigued from the conversation and agree spontaneously: “Enough talking about the children!”

These days, the punch line could be: “Enough talking about Israel.” Most conversations about Israel today are about Israel’s tsuris. (troubles). Yes, Israel has plenty of troubles. There is anti-Zionism on the left and on the right. There is anti-Semitism on the left and on the right. There is an occupation of the Palestinian people that has been going on now for over 50 years. There is a military build-up of those who would destroy Israel in lands that border Israel: in Gaza, in Lebanon and in Syria. There are those in America who seem to equate Israel with ‘the devil himself.’ And there are those in America who see Israel as the very vehicle to Heaven.

Against this backdrop, life in Israel is bustling and thriving. The foodie scene is very big. By all means, do see the movie In Search of Israeli Cuisine. Medical research in Israel has led to miracles in cancer treatment and calls that an actual cure for cancer is in reach within the halls of the Technion and Ben Gurion University. Israeli start-up companies have created methods to purify and re-use water that have recently been used now in California. Paraplegics have stood and walked once more because of the Israeli invention of a robotic exoskeleton machine.

There is a lot of diversity of opinion about who Israel is and what Israel should be. Remarkably, there is no more diversity of opinion on the subject of Israel than there is within Israel itself. Just take a look at the Knesset on any given day.

Temple Beth Tikvah is a synagogue where diversity of opinion should flourish. I cherish all opinions and viewpoints about Israel. At the same time, I cherish our common ground, which is our love of Israel, our attachment to Israel and our desire to stay informed and engaged.

To that end, I encourage you to join us this month of January in an exploration of Israel and the Jewish Values that undergird this Jewish state of ours. We meet in the sanctuary from 12-2pm on Wednesdays in January. Be a part of the conversation.

L'Shalom,
Rabbi Offner

Rabbi's Column

Dear Friends,

As we descend deeper and deeper into the darkness of the month of December, we would be wise to consider this deep, dark lesson: words can kill. We have been surrounded by demonstration of this deep, dark truth.

The horror of Pittsburgh still lingers in our throats. We can wish it away with the rationale that it was ‘one lone individual,’ but that violent act was made in a context. The shooter was targeting Jews and he was specifically targeting Jews for coming to the aid of immigrants. Every time we hear ugly words about Jews or immigrants, every time we see Nazi swastikas, we must take these actions seriously and speak out about them. These are words and messages that lead to violence. These are words that are an invitation to do harm.

Surely we are not fanatics. Not us. But every time we let violent words pass, without countering them directly, we are aiding the cause of extremists.

December is indeed a dark month. But soon we will light the candles of Chanukah to combat that darkness. This year, there is a particular custom on Chanukah that addresses our fears of rising anti-Semitism. The Talmud instructs that we are to light the menorah “in order to publicize the miracle of the holiday.” It became the tradition to light the menorah in a window, so others could see it. The notion that we are to be vocal about who we are, allowing all to see, was a step in nurturing pride rather than hiding our true selves from others.

This Chanukah, may we be extra clear about who we are and what we do. May we be extra vocal when we hear antiSemitic words or words that defame any group of people. May the words we choose combat the darkness of December.

To a sweet festival filled with light.
Happy Chanukah,
Rabbi Offner

Rabbi's Column

Dear Friends,

The major Jewish holidays of the autumn season are now in the past, but we can look forward to two wonderful holidays in November. Though they are admittedly not Jewish holidays, they are most certainly holidays that we embrace and observe wholeheartedly as Jews.

Two holidays in November, you say? What could they be? Thanksgiving is obviously one of them. The other – a personal favorite: Election Day. Yes, I think it is right to call Election Day a holiday. In fact, it is such an important day that I don’t think it would be wrong for the U.S.A. to make it a federal holiday. Make sure to vote on November 6.

I am keenly aware that as I write this “November” column, we do not yet know the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections. But shortly after this SHOFAR is in your hands, we will indeed know the outcome. I don’t know if you will be excited or disappointed, surprised or dismayed. But I do know one thing: whatever the results of the election, we will continue to do the work that needs to be done. No matter who is in elected office, we will continue to work unceasingly to make our world a better, safer, more peaceful planet.

And as we head towards Thanksgiving, we should all pause and remember to be thankful that we live in these United States of America. Thanksgiving is an opportunity to remember those first pioneers who came to this country by boat. No, I don’t mean the pilgrims who travelled on the Mayflower, I refer rather to the Jewish pilgrims who were also fleeing religious persecution and came to these shores in the hopes of a better future. Twenty-three Jews came to the United States from Brazil in 1654 and settled in New Amsterdam.

Our numbers have swelled from 23 in 1654 to 5.8 million Jews in America today. That is less than 2% of the population of the United States, but it is still the largest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel, and almost equal in number to Israel. Fully 80% of the world’s Jewish population now lives in either the U.S. or Israel.

May we continue to flourish in this country, and may we always contribute to the flourishing of our country.

Chag Same’ach – to a good Election Day and a blessed Thanksgiving.

Rabbi Offner

Rabbi's Column

Dear Friends,

What a glorious High Holidays we experienced at TBT. It was truly a house of prayer. I still have so many images that float through my mind: the music, the Torahs, the people, the choir, the flowers, the buzz, the energy, the participation, the tears, the laughter, the life.

So much life was packed into our sanctuary. You brought your hopes and dreams and we nurtured them and cultivated them. I hope that there was enough there to sustain you during the entire year ahead. Even when we are not all together. Especially when we are not all together.

This is TBT at its best, an entire community coming together to achieve holiness. That is why I prefer to refer to these days as the High “Holy Days” more than the High “Holidays.” Holidays and Holy Days are different. Consider these words, adapted from the writing of Rabbi Sidney Greenberg:
“On holidays, we run away from our duties; on holy days, we face up to them. On holidays, we seek to let ourselves go; on holy days, we try to bring ourselves under control. On holidays, we try to empty our minds; on holy days, we attempt to replenish our spirits. On holidays, we reach out for the things we want; on holy days, we reach up for the things we need. Holidays bring a change of scene; holy days bring a change of heart.”

So many of us rose up to help in this grand endeavor, this pursuit of holiness. From the moment we were greeted by John Lesage and his Parking Crew, we knew it was a holy day. Just think of all the others: the Board Members who welcomed us into the synagogue, Bruce Topolosky who offered a beautiful sermonette, Bennett Paul and his team who magically host a gorgeous spread of a Break-theFast, our Shofar Blowers: Eli Sherer, Jen Silva , Steve Eppler-Epstein, and Samuel Kaplan. That choir! Wow! Walter Stutzman on the piano. And speaking of music, waiting with baited breath as our new cantor opened his mouth to sing his first notes. Would he? Could he? And the answer came: a profound YES! How perfect that we will gather again in short order to officially install Cantor Stanton as OUR cantor.

Then there is Kim Romine, who is absolutely everywhere to help with every single request. Bonnie Mahon graciously responded to the phones ringing off the hook. Judy Merriam, who hosts a spectacular Tashlich, this year especially as she so creatively made it happen for us all even in the pouring rain. Our Religious Activities Committee, making sure so many had special honors of readings and aliyot (a special shout-out to Heide Mueller-Hatton and Lisa Leventhal). Our Torah readers and Haftarah readers! Our Usher Captain, Doug Agranov, and Ushers Jonathan Levine, Dick Whelan and Al Goldberg. How many years running, now??? Our on-call doctors: Ben Tolchin, Karen Goldberg, Lynda Rosenfeld and John Foggle.

Our Children’s Programs, run by Kate Rothstein – with Suzy Frisch making everything work like clockwork -- were as smooth as could be. A big shout-out to SALTY, our fabulous youth group, to Casey Goldberg and to Rabbi Polly Berg. And our children! How about that Oseh Shalom? Tina Silidker and Sarah Mervine and our Social Justice Committee, making tikun olam a reality distributing bags and col- lecting food for those in need.

Best of all: all of you. You came, you brought your hearts and your souls, and you changed us for the better. To a continued good year ahead. May 5779 surprise us, beyond expectation, with goodness.

With love and admiration,
Rabbi Offner

Rabbi's Column

Dear Friends,

This September has EVERYTHING in it. In this one single Gregorian month, we encounter these Jewish moments:
     1. the month of ELUL
     2. SELICHOT
     3. Rosh Hashanah
     4. Yom Kippur
     5. Sukkot
     6. Simchat Torah

What in the world could G-d have been thinking when creating the Jewish calendar? EVERYTHING in one fell swoop. So here is a primer for the month ahead.

ELUL – this Jewish month has four letters in it: אלול .The four letters are an acronym for the proclamation “Ani L’Dodi v’Dodi Li,” which translates as “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” It is a reminder to us that ELUL, the month of soul-searching preparation for the High Holy Days, is first and foremost about LOVE. We are entering the fourth year of using our new High Holiday Machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh. One of the definite distinguishing factors about our new prayerbook, is that it heightens the sense of G-d’s LOVE for us. Don’t think of the holidays to come as stern and judgmental; G-d only wants to help us improve our lives, for ours is a G-d who loves us. We could all do better to try loving each other a bit more.

SELICHOT – this holiday is an ‘overture’ of the themes to come. The Hebrew word “Selichot” is the plural form of “Selicha,” which in modern Hebrew is used when we want to say “Excuse me.” That means that our holiday could be called “Excuse Me’s.” In this way, we embark upon the journey through forgiveness, repentance and – one hopes – to joy and true happiness. Such is the promise of Selichot.

ROSH HASHANA – our holiday marking a new beginning. A new month, a new year, a new moon – and an opportunity to consider our lives and make ourselves new again.

YOM KIPPUR – literally, the Day of Atonement. A play on the words suggests we consider Yom Kippur to be the Day of At One-ment. If we can bring all we do into harmony, be truly at One, then we can enter the year ahead with a sense of promise and hope.

SUKKOT – as soon as the hard metaphysical work of Yom Kippur is done, we turn to the very physical harvest holiday of Sukkot. Come dwell in our TBT Sukkah; be sustained by the beauty of the natural world around us.

SIMCHAT TORAH – our month of holidays culminates in this celebration of a most fundamental cycle, the cycle of the Torah. We are guided by Torah each and every day in a never-ending cycle of learning and growth. To all the cycles in our lives – to a New Harvest, a New Book, a New Year.

Shana Tova,
Rabbi Offner

Rabbi's Column - Summer 2018

In the midst of these summer months of July and August, many of us are anticipating, planning or engaged in vacations. I am fascinated by the vocabulary we choose to use to describe that time. In America, we call it a ‘vacation,’ but our British friends describe the same experience as ‘going on holiday.’ And of course in Hebrew, we use the word ‘chofesh.’

Each word can help us enter a time in our lives that is most special indeed. The English word ‘vacation’ comes, quite evidently, from the word ‘vacate,’ to leave. An essential part of any vacation is to leave something behind. These days we are not very good at leaving things behind. If we take our cell phones, our iPads and our laptops with us, are we not denying ourselves a critical component of what a vacation is supposed to be? Let go. Leave. Make a shift in your focus. Vacate.

Though we in America tend to use the word ‘holiday’ to refer to a more collective, national or communitarian day off, we would do well to consider the significance of the words chosen by our British friends to describe their vacations. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could elevate the experience of being on vacation to a holy day? What makes a vacation holy? Not merely because we leave something behind, but because we approach the new adventure ahead with careful attention. Let us spend each vacation day in gratitude for the time, the relaxation, and the opportunities for growth that are ours.

The Hebrew word ‘chofesh’ comes from a root word meaning ‘free.’ A vacation is both about freedom ‘from’ and freedom ‘for.’ Our vacations are not simply about leaving, but about arriving.

Planning a vacation? Don’t forget to actually vacate, to honor the moments of each holy day and to pack all that free time up, with life.
L’Shalom,
Rabbi Offner

Rabbi's Column - June 2018

We are officially in the midst of our transition. We are saying ‘goodbye’ and ‘hello’ at the same time. We say goodbye to Cantor Kevin Margolius who has spent five tremendous years with us. Cantor Margolius has built up so many of the programs that we now hold dear: our Religious School that has a curriculum bursting with learning, our Shabbat band that brings joy to our services, his voice in prayer week-in and week-out, a Bar and Bat Mitzvah training program that has done away with recordings of the portions in favor of the ability to read and even sight-chant trope. The list goes on and on. We are the beneficiaries and we offer our deepest thanks. Please join us for our farewell service on June 15.

At the very same time, we are thrilled to say hello to Cantor Mark Stanton. It has been a non-stop six-month search for just the right cantor at just the right time for TBT. There are big shoes to fill and we are blessed mightily that Cantor Mark Stanton has accepted our invitation to be TBT’s next Cantor-Educator. Cantor Stanton is a graduate of the Hartt School of Music in Hartford. He has been the beloved cantor of Congregation Beth Emeth in Wilmington, Delaware for the past 14 years. He is beloved because of his skills and his passion and his caring for Jewish life. I am delighted beyond belief to welcome him as my clergy partner and I am sure that you will see why very soon, when he joins us for Cantor Margolius’ Farewell Service on June 15 and becomes our cantor on July 1.

L’Shalom,
Rabbi Offner