What I learned from a case of URJ Biennial FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

Cross-posted to The Vassar Temple Blog.

Not everyone I know attended the Union for Reform Judaism’s 2015 Biennial Convention, but it felt that way. I ran into people from every school, youth program, and synagogue I’ve ever worked with or attended. My friends and colleagues who missed it complained of a condition called “Biennial FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).”

The Biennial Uniform: Black blazer, large nametag, and ribbons from every Jewish program I've ever been a part of.

The Biennial Uniform: Black blazer, large nametag, and ribbons from every Jewish program I’ve ever been a part of.

We at the Biennial weren’t immune to FOMO. At any given time, there were 20 different sessions to attend, on four specialized tracks: Audacious Hospitality, Strengthening Congregations, Engaging our Youth, and Repairing Our World. There were concerts, exhibits, shopping, and services, stretching from 7:15 a.m. to well after midnight. Often, I’d run into someone on my way to an event and end up reconnecting instead.

Though I was excited to be in Orlando, I was lucky if I got outside for 15 minutes each day. I spent an hour in the pool total. I never made it to Disney.

So I was glad when we arrived at Shabbat which, while not exactly restful, brought everyone together for a shared Shabbat worship experience.

Biennial services are not to be missed: 5,000 Jews gather together, music is led by a choir, a band and the leaders of our movement, spontaneous horas break out so often that I’m not sure we can call them “spontaneous” anymore. It is the closest a Reform Jew will ever get to a tent revival.

These massive tefillot don’t just create an inspiring prayer experience in the moment. They set the trends for the next two years: with new music, new uses of technology in prayer, and new challenges to address as a movement.

The four tracks were integrated masterfully into the service: young people from NFTY and our college programs read Torah and spoke eloquently about issues such as gun violence prevention and the negative impacts of standardized testing on minorities.

The most powerful moment came when Rabbi Rick Jacobs called upon various groups to recite the Torah blessings, gathered around Torah scrolls stationed throughout the ballroom.

The first aliyah was for people like me: born and bred in the Reform movement and loved every minute of it (a lot of rabbis in this group). The second aliyah was for those who had grown up in the movement, but hadn’t been engaged in it, until a person or program got them fired up about Reform Judaism (quite a few Jewish professionals in this group, too).

The third aliyah was for people who came to Reform Judaism from the outside: people who were raised in another religious tradition, people who were raised in another movement, and people who grew up with no affiliation at all–Jewish or otherwise.

Since Biennial is a conference for the movement’s leadership, one would think that the first two groups would be the largest. But far and away the largest group was the last one, the group composed of those who were at one time on the margins, and somehow, against all odds, found their way in.
Watching this massive group of people chant the Torah blessings, I started to have a different kind of FOMO. This Fear of Missing Out was for all the connections I wasn’t making, all of the members–and potential members–of our community we weren’t reaching. For every person reaching out to place their hands on one of the Torah scrolls, there had to be at least ten who had never made it in the door.

Just four months into my current rabbinic position, I began to wonder: Who is out there that we have yet to welcome into our tents? What sparks have we not yet kindled in those who sit in our pews, or in those who have yet to walk through our doors? And what barriers– physical, socioeconomic and spiritual–were keeping us apart from one another?

After the blessings were chanted, we read the story of Abraham sending his servant to find a wife for Isaac, and I thought about how each of the story’s main characters shows audacious hospitality: Eliezar, who travels to a distant land to lead a young person toward her destiny; Rebecca, who rushes to meet the needs of a weary traveler; Abraham, who sends out an emissary to find the right person to continue his family’s traditions; and Isaac, who invites someone new into his tent, and loves her unconditionally.

In the 21st century, we need to be all of the characters in this story: reaching out and inviting in, providing sustenance and showing love.

If we don’t, think of all we might miss out on.

If you have Biennial FOMO, check out some of the videos below, or others on the URJ YouTube Channel.

Shabbat Evening Services at the URJ Biennial. 

Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ Keynote Address, including dancers!


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Trick or Treat: Halloween and Audacious Hospitality

My d’var Torah on parashat Vayera from our Shabbat evening services. Cross-posted to The Vassar Temple Blog.

Each year, I get into an argument with my students about the merits of Purim versus Halloween. If you think about it logically, it makes far more sense to dress up and go house to house giving people candy than to bang on people’s doors and demand it. I never win this argument; just as I never win the argument that a headband with ears on it does not turn a mini-dress into a cat costume.

I don’t have anything against Halloween—or Jewish children’s participation in it. I don’t necessarily think Jewish schools should include it in the curriculum, but an American Jewish child trick-or-treating poses no spiritual threat for me.

I have happy memories of attempting to keep my costume visible under a puffy winter coat, of the spooky house where the local Drivers’ Ed teacher served hot apple cider out of a cobwebbed punch bowl, and of the annual post-trick-or-treat candy exchange with my brothers.

Now, for the first time, I’m preparing to experience Halloween from the other side of the door. And as I read this week’s Torah portion, I wondered: How would Abraham and Sarah welcome their trick-or-treaters?

Abraham and Sarah are known for the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, welcoming guests, or what our movement now calls “audacious hospitality.” That distinction stems from this week’s Torah portion, Vayera, where Abraham and Sarah welcome three strangers into their home, who tell them that, after decades of infertility, they will finally have a child of their own.

Abraham, in this scene, is 99 years old, and recovering from major surgery. And yet, these few lines are punctuated with words for speed. Abraham runs from his tent to greet the wayfarers, he hurries to Sarah and tells her to hurry and make cakes for the guests. He runs to the flock and chooses a calf to serve the travelers, which his servant hurries to prepare. Though he does not yet know that the strangers are messengers from God, he offers them the royal treatment: water for drinking and bathing their feet, curds and milk and fatted calf to eat—there is no kashrut yet—and a place to rest under a shady tree. And though he is a pretty important person himself, Abraham even waits on the men as they eat (Gen. 18: 1-8).

The plain text shows that Abraham and Sarah go above and beyond to make their guests feel welcome. The rabbis craft legend upon legend of Abraham and Sarah opening their home to strangers and going out of their way to help those in need.

Some say that Abraham and Sarah’s tents were open on all sides, so that no one would have to go around in circles looking for a way in. They provided not only what the guests were accustomed to, but the finest of everything: wine, wheat bread, and meat. And they did not simply sit there and wait for guests to arrive: they went out into the world to invite people in, even setting up way-stations along the road where people could eat, drink and rest, wherever they happened to be (BOL 679:361, Avot 1:15/ARN 7).

In fact, the tamarisk or eshel tree that Abraham plants at the end of chapter 21 is said to be a wordplay on she-al, “asking,” as in “whatever you ask for, I will give you.” Or eshel could be an acronym for achilah (eating), shtiyah (drinking), and linah (lodging) or l’vayah (accompanying) depending on which rabbi you ask (Legends of the Jews v. 248, n. 225, EC 117, Plaut 145). Once the travelers had finished enjoying whatever Abraham and Sarah had provided for them, they were encouraged not to thank their hosts, but to praise God who had provided everything (Sotah 10a). Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality reminds us that food and drink and shelter are not ours to give, but God’s to share.

Is this how it feels to approach our door?

So how might the Jewish tradition help us to practice hachnasat orchim in our homes on Halloween? And what can the opening of our homes on Halloween teach us about audacious hospitality in our Jewish community?

First of all, what do you say when you open the door? I was an imaginative kid who loved dressing up, and often trick-or-treated as obscure literary characters or in costumes I had made myself, long after I should have been “too old.” And I speak from experience when I say that there is no more heartbreaking question for a costumed child than, “What are you supposed to be?”

These people weren’t trying to be mean or dismissive. They were just curious. They wanted to know what I was trying to be so that they could react appropriately.

Likewise, when people come into our synagogue, we’re curious to know who they are, so that we can respond accordingly. We strive to welcome people of all ages and backgrounds, all gender identities and sexual orientations, and from families of all shapes, sizes and compositions. Naturally, when we meet someone whose identity doesn’t fit into our preconceived notion of Jewish-ness, gender, or family, we’re curious.

When we ask questions like, “How did you become Jewish?” “Are your children adopted?” “Why is your last name McCarthy?” we may just be trying to get to know someone. But even our most basic questions may hit a nerve: when we ask a single person where his or her partner is, when we ask an infertile couple about their children, or when we ask a person of color when he or she converted, not realizing that this isn’t always the case.

Just as we might better welcome a trick-or-treater by saying, “What a great costume! Tell me more about it!” we might better welcome a new person to our synagogue by saying, “We are so glad you’re here! Tell us about yourself!” This sends the message to our children, and our guests: You are welcome in our home, we want you to be comfortable being whoever it is that you are, and we hope that you will tell us your story in your own time.

Click the pumpkin for more information.

Once someone is in the door, we, like Abraham and Sarah, want to provide them with the best of everything, and whatever it is that they need. This year, the Food Allergy Research and Education organization has asked that houses put out a teal pumpkin (or a sign with a teal pumpkin on it) to let trick-or-treaters know that there are non-food treats available for children with life-threatening food allergies.

This, also, has applications in the synagogue. We should strive to meet the needs of our guests: with allergy-friendly snacks, accessible facilities, and transliterated or large-print siddurim for those who struggle with Hebrew or reading. This also applies to the language we use: “partner” and “parent” rather than wife, husband, mother or father; “person from another faith background,” rather than “non-Jew.” By expanding our language, we are less likely to exclude someone who doesn’t fit into our original boxes.

And like putting the teal pumpkin on the porch, we need to let potential guests know that we are welcoming. What does it say on our lawn, on our door, on our website to let people know that we have what they need, and that we can provide a safe space for people in the LGBT community, for interfaith families, and for people with special needs. What would it be like to put on our front door: Come in! We have an elevator and gluten free cookies!?!

And if we were truly to be like the Abraham and Sarah of legend, we may not even want to make our trick-or-treaters come all the way to our house. In some communities, neighborhood groups set up a “trunk-or-treat” so that younger children can go from car to car in a lighted parking lot, rather than wander through a dark cul-de-sac, ringing doorbells.

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Life is Messy: A Drash for Shabbat Shuvah

This was my sermon this past Friday night. Laundry and dishes are done now, and houseguests gone, but the shoes remain.

“As you begin the year, so shall you end it.”

I’m not sure exactly where this adage comes from, or even whether it refers to the Jewish New Year or the secular one. But around this time of year, it gets lodged in my brain, reminding me to tie up loose ends and take care of business before the sounding of the shofar. We are fortunate that the beginning of our year stretches from the beginning of Elul to the end of Yom Kippur—forty days—giving us plenty of time to get our affairs in order. Even if we hit the snooze alarm until Rosh Hashana, we still have the ten days of repentance to make things right. Now is the allotted time to make apologies and write thank you notes, to settle debts and give to tzedakah, so that we can begin the year with a clean slate.

And now is also the time to clean the house.

For some reason, that is what I think of when I hear, “As you begin the year, so shall you end it.” Though I’ve never been much of a neat-freak, I wouldn’t want to go to Rosh Hashana services with the bed unmade or the dishes undone. In fact, when I get blocked writing sermons, I might even clean out the drawers of the fridge or empty out the closet for Goodwill. (My other procrastinatory activity is cooking, which sometimes counterbalances the cleaning, as I teach myself to caramelize onions or make pudding from scratch).

This year, I didn’t have much time to procrastinate, and I was fortunate enough to be able to hire someone to do a good deep clean of my new apartment in preparation for the holiday. The cleaning, however, took place on Wednesday, a good four days before the start of the New Year, giving me WAY too much time to mess it up again.

By Sunday morning, the laundry basket was overflowing and the dishwasher was full. The kitchen countertops, just days earlier scrubbed clean, even under the burners of the stove, were smeared with traces of turmeric and pomegranate. There were onion peels and thyme leaves scattered across the kitchen floor. Boxes of new shoes were stacked against the wall of the bedroom, waiting either to be worn for the holiday, or sent back to the store. Piles of paper were strewn everywhere: bills, magazines I need to cancel, and notes for my sermons.

I had houseguests too, adding suitcases, toiletries, and extra towels to the mix. It was a mess, and it made me anxious about the starting the New Year off on the wrong foot.

I didn’t grow up in a super neat household. My mother decorated our house with placards that read, “Dull women have immaculate homes,” or, “My house is clean enough to be healthy and messy enough to be happy.” Our house was a happy tornado of Play Doh, Matchbox cars, and Barbie heads; every surface covered with family photographs, notes scribbled on the back of junk mail envelopes, and piles upon piles of unread magazines.house_cleaning

So I trace my obsession with cleaning for the holiday to a series called All of a Kind Family, which my mother and I read when I was growing up. The books told the story of five sisters and a brother growing up Jewish in New York City at the turn of the century. In one chapter, the girls are charged with cleaning the house for Shabbat. (The brother is still a baby at this point). As they dust and mop and polish, one sister turns to the other and tells her the legend of the Shabbat angels:

Every Shabbat, when a man comes home from synagogue, there are two angels with him, one on each shoulder: a good angel and a bad angel. If the house is spotless, the table set, and the children smiling and freshly scrubbed, the good angel says, “May it be so next Shabbat,” and the bad angel has to say, “Amen.” But if the house is messy and the children unruly, the bad angel will say, “May it be so next Shabbat,” and the good angel has to say, “Amen.”

I have a number of problems with this story: it puts an undue pressure on the women of the house to get things in order while the men are away at shul. It places too much emphasis on an ideal of domestic bliss and makes no mention of the spiritual aspects of Shabbat.

It also implies that one can get caught in a cycle of bad Shabbatot or bad years. In this season of change, we need to know that, no matter how Shabbat or Rosh Hashana starts, if we truly desire to change our ways, we can turn things around, and make the next one better.

This story also ignores one crucial thing: that life is messy. Life with six kids in a tenement on the Lower East Side must have been messy. Having three kids under the age of six in a Pennsylvania suburb was definitely messy. And life today, even in a home all by myself, is messy. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Messiness can be a reminder of all of our blessings.

As we mopped chocolate off the counter and scraped pomegranate stains off the white cabinets, I realized that this mess was a happy one. I was blessed to have loved ones spending the holiday with me. We were blessed to have abundant food to eat. I felt blessed that I had finally made an entire meal in which I burned nothing and everyone took seconds. Even the piles of paper accumulating in the corners were a reminder that I was finally doing the meaningful, creative work that I had longed for over the last few years.

Which is not to say that all messiness is good. No celebration is without its reminders of who is missing, who is hurting, and who might not be with us next year. There is always uncertainty on the horizon. What kind of a mess will our lives be next year at this time? But that is all the more reason not to postpone our festivities until the house is clean, or the transitional period is over. We celebrate even in the midst of life’s messes.

This is what teshuva feels like.


This time of year is also when we are encouraged to go deeper into the messiness of life. Teshuva is not a neat process. It is kind of like cleaning out the top drawer, the one where we throw everything that cannot be categorized or made useful. If we leave everything as it is, no one will be able to see the mess from the outside, but we know it’s there. Teshuva is when we dump the drawer all over the floor and figure out what is worth keeping, what needs to be fixed, and what must be thrown away. The result is that things get messier before we can get organized.

And we never get it exactly right on the first try. We know that not everything we put back in the drawer is worth keeping; we know that, the next time we need something, it will be that exact thing that we threw away; and we know that, by next week, we’ll have tossed something else useless in there because we don’t know what else to do with it. That top drawer is never going to be exactly how we want it. But once in awhile, we dump it out, we explore its contents, and we try again.

Teshuva requires us to take a hard look at the messiness in ourselves, knowing that we might only be able to attack one cluttered corner at a time, knowing that we are making new messes even as we clean up the old ones. And teshuva requires us to sort out the messes we’ve made with other people. This might mean opening old wounds, making ourselves vulnerable to the people we have hurt or who have hurt us, exposing ourselves to the possibility of pain and rejection. Teshuva is messy. But teshuva, that digging deeper into the mess, is also the only way we can really get things cleaned up.

“As you begin the year, so shall you end it.”

Regardless of what we’ve gotten in order and what we have yet to scrub clean, the confessions of the High Holy Days give us a chance to start fresh. Isaiah tells us, “Be your sins like crimson, they can turn snow-white. Be they red as dyed wool, they can become like fleece” (Isaiah 1:18).

Teshuva offers us the opportunity to wipe the slate clean. But there’s a reason we do it every year. Life is messy, we are messy, and as we begin the new year, it is hopeless to pray that we’ll be able to keep our lives free of mess for an entire year. Rather, let us pray for the courage to live fully within that mess, to dig deep into it when we need to, to sort things out, and to embrace it when we can, to find the blessings within it.

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Spiritual Housecleaning: A Tashlich Ritual for Kids #blogelul

Shana Tovah to Everyone!

Tashlich is one our lesser-known High Holy Day rituals (kind of like Selichot), so I thought I’d make a video to explain. Right after Rosh Hashana–and presumably after we’ve made all of our apologies and fixed all of the things we’ve broken–we go to a moving body of water: a lake, a river, or an ocean. We take breadcrumbs and cast them into the water (The word tashlich means “to cast away”), symbolically letting go of our sins or anything else we don’t want to take with us into the coming year.

When I was in college, someone in my chavurah taught me a beautiful ritual you can do without a river, lake, ocean, or bread. Writing our sins on paper with washable marker, we were able to make them “disappear” with the help of warm, soapy water.

With our mistakes and regrets washed away, we are able to start the New Year off with a clean slate. And when we’re finished casting away, we can start to think about what we want to write in the coming year–and do that with a permanent marker!

Here’s demonstration below (iMovie cut off the top of my head, but you’ll get the point).

Vassar Temple and Vassar College Jewish Student Union will be performing tashlich at Sunset Lake at Vassar College at 4 p.m. on Monday, September 14th. All are welcome to celebrate the New Year with us!

Wishing all of you a happy, healthy, safe and sweet New Year! L’shana tova tikatevu.

P.S. In 1997, Richard Israel z”l created a list of different kinds of bread for different kinds of sins. This is more for adults.

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Staying Awake for Selichot #BlogElul Day 17: Awake

“Awake, you sleepers, from your sleep! Rouse yourselves, you slumberers, out of your slumber. Examine your deeds, and turn to God in repentance. Remember your Creator, you who are caught up in the daily round…” -Maimonides Hilchot Teshuva 3:4, as quoted in Gates of Repentance, p. 139.

There is a sanctity to being awake in the middle of the night.

Ask anyone who has gotten up for a midnight feeding, or worked the night shift, or taken a run at dawn. We may be groggy, overwhelmed, or even resentful when we wake up so early (or stay up so late). Even so, we cannot deny that there is a stillness and a quiet to that time. Alone with our thoughts, the day’s distractions mostly gone, there is a possibility of clarity that we may not be able to achieve at another time of day.

alarm clockOur ancestors knew this and imagined that God, too, was more receptive and more focused between dusk and dawn. This led them to develop the tradition of reciting Selichot–penitential prayers–in the middle of the night, in the weeks leading up to the High Holy Days.

Traditions vary around the world. Sephardic Jews rise before dawn every morning from the 1st of Elul to Yom Kippur to recite Selichot. This 40-day period of reciting Selichot remind us of the 40 days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai, receiving the second set of tablet of the covenant, after he had broken the first set in anger.

Ashkenazi Jews recite Selichot on the night after the last Shabbat before Rosh Hashana. The end of Shabbat was seen as a favorable time to ask for forgiveness, since we have just spent the day in study and prayer and are about to begin a new week. The end of Shabbat can signal the opportunity for a fresh start, just like the High Holy Days themselves.

Selichot is an intimate experience, and not only because, sadly, it is often not well-attended. The middle of the night is an intimate time, not often shared with large crowds of people. Likewise, Selichot is a time to seek intimacy with God. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we celebrate God’s transcendence. We imagine God enthroned on high, meting out justice from a place high above the heavens. On Selichot, we recognize God’s immanence, and we are able to draw closer to God than we could in the brightness and busyness of the daytime.

There is another element to staying up for Selichot. Staying awake until midnight or rising before dawn upsets the natural order of things. Which is exactly what we are meant to be doing in the days leading up to the High Holy Days. By shaking us out of our normal routine, Selichot wakes us up and lets us know that the High Holy Days are approaching, and that now is the time to begin our cheshbon ha-nefesh, our accounting of the soul.

With the sounding of the shofar as our “spiritual alarm clock,” participating in Selichot reminds us to wake up, shake ourselves out of our old habits, and prepare ourselves to be judged, to change our ways, and to make ourselves worthy of being inscribed for another year in the Book of Life.

Vassar Temple’s Selichot Experience begins this Saturday, September 5, at 7:30 with the presentation of the Rabbi Stephen A. Arnold Award to Melissa Erlebacher, followed by Havdalah, “This I Believe” with Donna Loshin and Howard Brown, followed by our Selichot service. Everyone present will be invited to approach the ark and make your own personal prayer to God.

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Camp is Still Awesome: The Language of “When”

Over the past 10 days, I visited three different URJ Camps in Massachusetts: URJ Crane Lake Camp in West Stockbridge, URJ Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, and URJ Six-Points Sci-Tech Academy in Byfield. I didn’t have enough time to be faculty at any camps this summer, but my visits allowed me to have just a taste of the many different flavors of Jewish summer camp.

My URJ Camping roots run deep. I can honestly tell you that I have no idea who I would have become without my seven summers at URJ Camp Harlam. At the age of twelve, I was that girl who had to be forced to speak in class or pick up the phone. Towards the end of the summer, I spontaneously stood up and led a color-war cheer during a sporting event. I remember that moment profoundly because it was so out-of-character for me. I actually remember thinking, “Wow, I’m really different!” (I have no memories of actually playing sports: I guess camp didn’t change me that much!).

I found my voice at camp, made lifelong friendships, and engaged with Judaism in ways that I did not know were possible. Learning was interactive and provocative, whether we were exploring the history of Zionism–reenacting the siege of the S.S. Exodus in canoes on Lake Joshua–or debating whether the events in the Torah had actually happened. Tefillot in the Chapel on the Hill and the Chapel in the Woods were opportunities to sing, to connect, and to be creative. And this week, when someone from camp posted one of the lyrics to Arlo Guthrie’s Motorcycle Song on Facebook, dozens of us started virtually singing along.

Camp. Was. Awesome.

And, after a whirlwind visit to these three camps, I am here to report: Camp is Still Awesome.

IMG_2110At Crane Lake, I was treated to an inspiring Shabbat morning tefillah, complete with a Mumford and Sons inspired Elohai N’shama that had every age of camper moving their body. At Eisner, I bumped into at least one person from each of the communities I’ve worked with, plus a cohort from the synagogue where my mother grew up. At Sci-Tech, I attended the end-of-session “Tech Talks,” which featured original movies and video games, robots, weather charts, and a mock crime-scene.

These three camps are at very different moments in their history: Eisner is so old that I am the third generation in my family to have worked there (my grandfather was faculty in the 1960s, my mom was staff in the early 1970s, I was an Olim Counselor in 2002). Crane Lake is celebrating its “Chai” (18 year) anniversary, and Sci-Tech is only in its second year.

But one thing I noticed that the camps had in common was the language of “when.”

This was most poignant at the event I attended at URJ Eisner Camp. Alumni and donors had come to the camp to dedicate

Isabel Gershon, from Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, NC.

Isabel Gershon, from Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, NC.

two buildings that would serve the camp’s oldest units: Olim (campers entering 10th grade) and Machon (a leadership program for those entering 12th grade). As we ascended the hill to the new Olim building, our path was lined with every current camper, from 2nd grade to 12th grade. Each camper held a sign that stated what year s/he would be in Olim and what year s/he would be in Machon.

At camp, there is no “if you come back next summer,” or “if you end up working here one day.” As I listened to campers, staff, and faculty speak, the word “when” was always on the tip of their tongues: “When you come back next summer,” “When you are in our oldest unit,” “When you are a machon (CIT),” “When you are a counselor.” Camp is deeply engrained in each camper’s personal story. It reminds each camper that this place will be here for them, year after year, no matter what. It lends a shape to the people these campers will become and the Jewish lives they will lead.

Just as camp was a huge part of the path that led me to become a rabbi, camp is a huge part of the rabbi I want to be. The camps I’ve visited and worked with offer so many different kinds of programs for different kinds of campers, and the people I met at these events are dedicated to making these experiences accessible to all campers.

So as I begin to meet the young people in my congregation, I’m learning to say, “When you go to camp next summer!”

And now, please enjoy this clip of song session at URJ Sci-Tech Academy:

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Rabbi Leah Berkowitz’s Letter to the Community


This post appeared today in the Poughkeepsie Journal, check out the published version here:

Originally posted on Vassar Temple Blog:

By Rabbi Leah Rachel Berkowitz

In the Jewish tradition, we welcome people into our community in two different ways. We usually say “Shalom,” which means “peace.” We can also say “Bruchim Ha-baim!” which means, “Blessed is the one one who has come to us!”

This second greeting reflects my feelings as I join the Vassar Temple community as rabbi. I am truly blessed to be a part of the 167-year history of Poughkeepsie’s Reform Jewish community. I am grateful to the leadership of Vassar Temple for engaging me as their next rabbi, and for Rabbis Emerita Steve Arnold and Paul Golomb for providing me with so much support during this transition. I know that I will continue to rely on their wisdom and guidance as we move forward into our next chapter.

There is a legend that our ancestor Abraham lived in a tent that was open on all four…

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