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Dear Friends,

I want to thank all of you who have reached out since I shared Raina’s and my plans to make Aliyah in two years. I have been so touched and moved by your emails and the outpouring of kind wishes. We are excited for what lies ahead, but are also grateful that we will have two more years to laugh, learn, and share with all of you before making the move.

On the wall of my study at temple there is a painting of the ship that brought my Grandpa Alex over to America. A number of years ago I learned that the story Grandpa told diverged significantly from reality, but that hasn’t changed the power and meaning the painting holds for me. In a piece I wrote after discovering Grandpa’s “mistruths” I wrote,

“When Grandpa died, one of the keepsakes that I took from his home was a painting he did in 1923 of the ship that transported him to the US. The name of that ship—the Vaterland. It isn’t a great painting, but it is a key piece of my family history, and I treasure it. I keep that painting in my study at Temple as a constant reminder of how fortunate I am to live in this incredible country. Despite all of the current challenges the US faces, it is still a remarkable place to live and I’m proud to be an American.”

For years that painting stood as a symbol of communal achievement.

Here in America, where Grandpa Alex made his home, the Jewish community had thrived. We were welcomed into all aspects of social and civil life, and through hard work and determination, members of the Jewish community could be found in the top positions of politics, academia and industry. Organizations that had previously excluded Jews now actively sought their involvement. And increasingly, it seemed the biggest challenge facing Jewish life in America was a growing apathy and a slow (sometimes not so slow) slide from the opportunities created by acculturation to the weakened ties of assimilation.

In Israel, where Grandpa Alex’s sister Mary had started and raised her family, things were likewise bright. Israel had become a technological powerhouse, political alignments against Iran’s hegemonic aspirations were opening the door to a growing number of normalized international relationships, and global economic ties were not only growing stronger, but countries that previously did business with Israel behind the scenes were increasingly open to celebrating those ties.

The future seemed bright and only growing brighter.

Both here and in Israel we now face headwinds we never expected. And while I remain optimistic that we will weather this storm both here and in Israel, when I look at that painting my grandfather created over 100 years ago I now see something different than before. For rather than being a symbol of “mission accomplished,” that painting is now a reminder to me that the work of the generations that came before us is now ours. And it will take all of us together to build that future.

Last week we celebrated Confirmation. The words shared by our 10th graders were inspiring and made clear that our young adults truly understand the values and commitments of Judaism. At this evening’s Graduation service we will hear similar messages. Our young people understand their role in helping to create the Jewish future. And that is in large part thanks to the role each and every one of you has played in helping to create and sustain a temple community they can each see as their second home.

In this week’s Torah portion we are commanded to light the Ner Tamid, the Eternal Light that hangs over the ark in every synagogue sanctuary. As one colleague explains,

The rabbis see the Ner Tamid as an allusion to the centrality of the individual human soul and to the effort that every one of us can make to transform our own little corner of the world.

The lamp that was passed to us by past generations continues to shine. Now, however, it is up to us to be keepers of the flame so that we, like our ancestors, can pass it on to those who will come after us.

I look forward to working in partnership with you for the next two years to ensure the light we pass on is brighter than ever.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Cohen

Shammai used to say: make your study of the Torah a fixed practice; speak little, but do much; and receive all men with a pleasant countenance. (Pirke Avot 1:15)

Cantor Moses:

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

I love a good historical novel and this one is just so beautifully written. It stayed with me for a very long time. As we celebrated Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtmaut this week it’s a good time to reread this story of a defining moment in the history of Israel. Nearly two thousand years ago, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman’s novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path.

Rabbi Klein:

When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner, z’l

Rabbi Kushner teaches us how we can relate to God in face of all of the painful injustices in the world around us. Written from his personal experiences of parenting a child diagnosed with a fatal illness, the book speaks to both heart and mind. This book was transformative for me when I first read it during the summer I served as a hospital chaplain intern during rabbinical school, and remains the foundation of my personal theology to this very day.


Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History by Joseph Telushkin

At almost 800 pages, this book isn’t light beach reading. It is, however, an excellent resource that I recommend for every Jewish home. Rabbi Telushkin covers everything from Jewish text, to Jewish ethics and values, to Jewish ritual and more. Despite each of the 352 entries being just a few pages long, Telushkin is able to offer a depth of insight that delves into the richness and variety of Jewish topics. Reading one entry a day, in just a year we can each insure a a solid foundation of Jewish knowledge.

In fact, starting on Simchat Torah next fall, I would love for you to join me in a year long journey of learning with this book as the main text.