In my opinion, Purim at Brith Sholem was a success! We had a lot of fun baking Hamentashen, listening to a Megillah Reading and playing Purim Jeopardy. We also had a meaningful Shabbat Zakhor service together on Saturday morning. As a reminder, on this Shabbat we had a Maftir or additional Torah reading from Deuteronomy 25:17-19. The portion says, “Blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heavens, do not forget.” The
Amalekites are deemed an evil enemy that we must remember and forget at the same time.
We remember the event so that we can use our memory to overcome similar challenges of evil in the future. I continue to evoke this message because I think it is important to consider, especially with some of the very challenging and sad situations the world has faced in the past few weeks. We remember the terror activity in Israel and Europe and mourn the victims. We must blot out these acts of hatred in the future. The only way to do so is to remember them so we may work together to overcome this type of hatred and aim for peace. It certainly saddens me to see politicians that claim they aim for this ideal of peace, but then in their own messages include hateful rhetoric. We simply cannot support these types of candidates.
Obtaining peace and creating a better world for the future starts with our positive actions and words.
To end on a much happier note, as it is still the month of Adar II, Shabbat Zakhor is the second of four special Shabbatot leading up to Passover. This means we are, in a sense, counting down the weeks until Passover begins. The next special Shabbat will begin at sundown on Friday April 1st and is called Shabbat Parah or Shabbat of the Red Heifer. This Shabbat is focused on purification and marks the beginning of the time that we should be
preparing for the Passover Holiday. I will be back in Utah April 8th through 10th for the final special Shabbat, Shabbat haChodesh or Shabbat of the Month. Please come to Friday night services to learn more about this Shabbat. On Saturday April 9th, I will be spending the day in Logan leading a Torah study in the morning followed by a Mincha Hike in the afternoon. I look forward to seeing you all very soon.
On February 18th I was hard at work on an assignment for one of my classes when I got a text from a classmate. She could not wait to tell me that the man who had just won Jeopardy, the game show, was from your very own, Ogden, Utah. We were both very excited! How cool is it that Ogden was on the national radar last week?! The experience of being excited for Ogden being represented on national television is not one that I would have shared with my classmate if it were not for our student pulpits.
This year, my classmates and I have all learned about nine small cities across the Western United States. I had not even heard of some of these cities until now. That being said, it is fascinating how once we become aware of something, we open ourselves up to new experiences. Since my classmate has learned about Ogden, she is now able to experience things like this Jeopardy episode that are connected to the city in a whole new light. Without
her being opened up to Ogden, she may have watched the episode without much excitement.
This same idea can be applied to many aspects of life. Another personal example I will share has to do with architecture. When I began to study architecture as an undergraduate, I began to walk around cities with a whole new lens. Instead of just seeing buildings, I noticed form, style, time period, material, etc. Without moving anywhere, my entire experience of living in the exact same city had been changed due to my new eye for architecture.
We can apply this notion of opening ourselves up to new experiences in Judaism well. The Torah is full of wisdom. The more we study, the more we open ourselves up to experiencing this incredible wisdom. Whatever you are interested in, there is always a way to learn more and this will continue to open you up to the vast Jewish world! I look forward to learning more with all of you over my upcoming visit, March 18-20th. Aside from learning, we will certainly have some time for some Purim fun!
I want to take a moment to reflect on my past visit to Ogden. As many of you know, my last visit was a particularly special one for me as I had the opportunity to travel with my Rabbinic Mentor, Rabbi Steve Einstein. As usual, I felt welcomed by everyone and enjoyed lively discussions throughout the weekend. When the weekend was over, Rabbi Einstein told me that there is something incredible about Brith Sholem. He felt a sense of warmth that he certainly does not feel in every Jewish community he visits. Going into the weekend he did not know any of you and as he left the social gathering on Saturday evening, he received a warm embrace from many of you.
The way a community treats outsiders says a lot. In this week’s Torah Portion, Yitro, we see an early example of how the Israelite community welcomes outsiders into their community. Jethro, who is Moses’s father in law and a Midianite Priest, is not a member of the Israelite community. Jethro, however, expresses his respect for the God of the Israelites and is not only given an opportunity to participate in a sacrifice to God with Aaron’s help but to advise the community as they face some leadership issues. He is thought to be one of Moses’s greatest advisors, and Moses does indeed heed his advice, which prepares the community for revelation at Mt. Sinai. Thus, the Israelite community becomes stronger through their
ability to be welcoming to outsiders.
When an outsider comes through the doors of Brith Sholem, they surely do not walk out of the doors feeling as such. I began the year as an outsider and now, just past the halfway point in my year in Ogden, I feel I am truly a member of the community. I look forward to seeing you all again February 5th through the 7th!
As we wrap up the year 2015, we are also finishing the book of Genesis this week in our weekly Torah portion Va-Yehi. After the terrible action that Joseph’s brothers do by casting him into a pit and selling him into slavery, Joseph decides not to stay angry with them. When the brothers come to Egypt to seek food rations during the famine, Joseph recognizes them but they do not recognize him as their brother. To their faces, he does not treat them like family. In fact, he acts like a stranger to them. However, at a certain point Joseph reaches his breaking point. He clears an entire room so that that he can tell his brothers who he is. Just like the way Esau forgives Jacob with a kiss, so too does Joseph forgive and kiss all of his brothers. At the end, Joseph’s brothers are still unsure, though, if he is holding a grudge so they say, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong that we did him!” and they ask again for forgiveness. Although Joseph could have easily enslaved his brothers, he does not hold a grudge or seek revenge. Instead, he speaks kindly to them and reassures them he will provide for them and their children in Egypt during the years of famine. This portion serves as a reminder to us of how important it is to forgive our family and not hold grudges. For Joseph, forgiveness allows him to reunite his family. As I mentioned on Yom Kippur, not only does Jewish law forbid holding grudges, but we also know that they are not good for our mental health. As we prepare to move into the year 2016, let us think once again about the conflicts that we have in our relationships with friends, and family members. Let us ask our fellow humans for their forgiveness and also forgive others who have hurt us throughout the year. The decision to do so has the power to free our minds and open us up to a healthier and happier life in 2016. I look forward to seeing everyone when I return to Ogden January 15th-17th. Until then, please enjoy spending time with your friends and family.
December, the last month of the Gregorian calendar, goes by quickly. Many students find themselves busy writing final papers and taking exams. Those that work are rushing to finish the necessary tasks to close out the calendar year. Others are preoccupied with holiday parties, shopping, or volunteering so people that are in need can have a better holiday season. Amidst all of the busy schedules, there is another Jewish holiday to celebrate for not only one but eight days! Where do we find the time for this? This is the serious dilemma I find myself in each year and I do not think I am alone. When I do make time to light the Chanukkiah, however, I feel differently. Those few minutes that I carve out of the day provide a glimmer of hope in what often can be a long and tiring day. This is a chance to gather with friends, family, or alone to feel a relationship to our tradition. Each day, for eight days, we all have an excuse to take a step back from the grind of our busy lives and feel connected to the miracle of light, which Chanukkah commemorates. I urge everyone, even if just for five minutes, to try and find the time to light your own chanukkiah wherever you are this year. It may make your cold and dark December days a little warmer and brighter. I look forward to celebrating Chanukah with all of you during my next visit on December 5th at 5pm. I am also excited to kindle the Shabbat lights together as well. During my last visit in November, some of us participated in an interesting discussion about Kabbalat Shabbat. Please join us on December 4th at 7pm for a spirited service that will highlight some of what we talked about including a new tune. See you all soon!
The current Hebrew month, Cheshvan, is classically referred to as Marcheshvan, the prefix of which is the word mar. In Hebrew, this word means “bitter,” which our Sages connect to the idea that there are no special occasions that occur in Cheshvan. Admittedly, I do not think of this month as bitter. Sometimes, it is good to be able to take a moment and have time to experience other occasions in our lives. I imagine the fall foliage in Utah must be rather impressive. Have you had a chance to just take a moment and admire the trees? I actually would argue the month of Chesvan is actually a gift to us. After an extremely busy and spiritually active month of Tishre, our body and mind needs time to wind down. We need time to continue working on the improvements we came up with in Elul and Tishre. When life gives us a moment of breath, we should embrace it. It is healthy for our body and soul. I sometimes have a hard time doing this myself. Even when I have a short lull in my schedule, I look to fill it with other tasks or activities so as not to have any emptiness in my day. I realize, though, that in reality a lull in our usual busy life does not have to be empty. For example, we can still pray without the High Holidays! We will do this and much more when I come to town in a few more weeks. I look forward to seeing you all November 13th through the 15th! Until then enjoy a refreshing, rather than bitter, Chesvan.
Dear Brith Sholem Community,
I thoroughly enjoyed spending the High Holiday season with all of you at Brith Sholem this year. I have truly felt welcomed into the community and have had a great time getting to know you all over my past few visits. I hope everyone had a meaningful High Holiday experience. The High Holidays may have come to an end, but the Fall Holiday season is still set to continue! Sukkot began on the eve of September 27th and runs through October 4th. I am so glad that I will be able to join your community once again for the last part of this holiday, from October 2nd through October 4th. Once I leave, Shmini Atzeret will take place on October 5th followed by Simchat Torah on October 6th. Simchat Torah will conclude our Fall Holiday season, and believe it or not, we will not celebrate any holidays except for Shabbat until Chanukah! I admit the fall holidays can feel overwhelming. However, one thing I have come to realize about this time is that if we embrace the cycle of the holidays rather than resist it, the holiday season will feel less overwhelming and more of a happy experience that we look forward to each year. So let us enjoy this final part of the fall holiday cycle together. Looking forward to seeing you for the end of Sukkot!
I have just returned home from an unforgettable Shabbaton weekend in Simi Valley. Simi Valley is home to the Brandeis-Bardin Campus of American Jewish University. Simi Valley, for those that have not heard of it, is a beautiful valley surrounded by the Santa Susana Mountains in the greater Los Angeles area. To my surprise, Brandeis-Bardin is the largest piece of Jewish owned land outside of Israel at around 2,700 acres! Its’ grandeur and
beauty, while astounding, is not the reason I have decided to speak to you about my experience.
The theme of the Shabbaton was “Spirituality”. This word is something that I have often struggled with on my path to the rabbinate, but after this weekend, I realize that my struggle is actually not uncommon. Spirituality is something that we are all capable of experiencing, however, we have to transform ourselves in many different areas of our lives in order to nurture it and have a happier existence. Of course, one area that we can bring into the discussion is our Judaism. If we want to become more religiously spiritual, we may try and find more ways to connect to prayer or other Jewish rituals. Judaism, though, is only one piece of the puzzle.
We might find that in order to have a spiritual existence, we need to transform ourselves in other areas such as the relationships we have with others, our social justice initiatives or even the care of ourselves. Spirituality is based on the way we experience the world so it is different for everyone. Many people think that we cannot be a spiritual person if we are not a “religious” person. This is certainly not true; because while religion is important to some, everyone has many other areas they experience the world by. To start working on your own spirituality, think about the areas of your life you can start improving upon. This process of transformation is a fantastic thing to do in the month of Elul as we prepare ourselves for the
upcoming High Holy Days. Once again, I look forward to being a part of the Brith Sholem community and I hope that we may we all find spiritual growth in 5776.
Student Rabbi HUC
Dear Brith Sholem Community,
My name is Daniel Freedman and I am thrilled to be your student Rabbi for the 2015-2016 academic year! I want to start out with a confession. I sent an email to your president Judi Amsel introducing myself back in the beginning of May. In the email, I stated that I was looking forward to being a part of the Brith Shalem community. By mistake I spelled the name of your congregation “Brith Shalem” instead of “Brith Sholem”. This was not a typo
though. Instead, my brain was in its Hebrew mode as I was nearing the end of my “Year in Israel” so I changed Sholem to the closest Hebrew word I could think of inadvertently, which was Shalem. Shalem is a Hebrew word which means whole. “Covenant of Wholeness” would not make for such a bad name, but as Judi informed me, the name is Brith Sholem. It turns out Brith Sholem dates back to 1916 and was started by Yiddish speaking Jews. While I only know an “abyssal” amount of Yiddish, I do remember that the Hebrew word “Shalom” is said as “Sholem” in Yiddish. Thus, the congregation’s name really means “Covenant of Peace.” Personally, I am very interested in history and traditions so I look forward to learning more about your community on these levels and more.
I just completed my “Year in Israel” and from my anecdote, you can begin to understand how much of my year was spent on Hebrew studies. Hebrew has indeed left quite an impact on me and I am looking forward to continuing my study of Hebrew next year at HUC and with all of you during my monthly visits. However, as I start to reflect back on my year, arguably one of the most valuable things I gained in Israel is perspective. I would actually say I was quite lucky to be in Israel last summer during Operation Protective Edge. Starting a year in Israel with rocket sirens may seem intense and unappealing, but it actually proved to be a vital piece of my experience. Admittedly, the first time I heard the siren I was frightened. However, I quickly realized that if I was going to leave Israel with a better understanding of all of the issues that exist in contemporary Israeli society, I needed a new perspective. Rocket sirens do not frighten most Israelis. They have a different perspective regarding the conflicts that Israel is involved in because they live through them while Americans can only read or hear about them in the news. How could I gain new perspective? It became clear to me that I needed to stop using my prior knowledge and start thinking like someone directly facing the situations I was facing in Israel. Was there really anything that frightening about going down to a bomb shelter for 10 minutes? After all, the iron dome intercepts around 90 percent of the rockets. That means there was less of a chance of me dying from a rocket than in a car accident on an American interstate. My new understanding of perspective not only helped me get more out of my Israel experience, but I believe it will help me to build a better understanding of your Jewish community in Ogden next year in order to best serve you as your student Rabbi.
I look forward to meeting all of you in August!
that has been a constant in my life is a desire to make the world a
little better than when I found it. Growing up, my parents instilled in
me the value of tikkun olam, repairing the world,
and this belief has guided me throughout my journey to
where I stand today.
Working in a struggling school in New Orleans
was without a doubt the most challenging experience I've ever had. It was
also the most rewarding thing I have ever done. For me, there is nothing
more fulfilling, or more important, than seeing the positive impact you
can have on others by volunteering and taking the time to help those