Divrei HaRav, VaYishlach

December 1, 2023

I am writing this on Dec 1st, exactly two years since I began serving as rabbi of this community. This Shabbat also happens to be the Torah portion called VaYishlach, in which Ya’akov (Jacob), through his wrestling, becomes Yisrael.  One of the translations of Yisrael is God-Wrestler.  This was my Bat Mitzvah Torah portion, at age 29, and the day that I adopted my name, Amita אמיתה, meaning Truth.  I chose this name because it described(s) me in several ways.  a) I am honest and direct, sometimes to a fault.  b) I wear my heart on my sleeve and am without pretense.

c) I have always made sincere efforts to discern the truth in any situation, whether personal or political, i.e. to the extent that it is possible to uncover the Truth.  Is there ever one Truth?

I also chose the name Amita אמיתה to inspire me to continue to grow into my Truth… not on an intellectual level, but in a fully embodied life. Living our Truth – which is not a static thing, but an evolving process — is an important part of the work and play of being human.

We often take a mental snapshot of a person or a People and form a fixed idea of who that person/People is/are, obscuring the reality that we are each a movement, not a fixed object.

This continues to be an excruciatingly painful, frightening period for anyone with any connection to Israel or Palestine.  Some people come down clearly on one “side” or the other.  I continue to wrestle.  In my all too rare, peaceful moments, I sit calmly holding the whole complex, tragic mess. I am not interested in the “peace” of separating myself from the situation. Yes, sometimes we need to walk outside, enjoy the natural beauty around us, enjoy our friends and families. We need to pause – allow ourselves Shabbatot – from the agony of what is transpiring in the Holy Land. And then re-engage, in whatever ways we can, without going off the deep end.

I include here a link to a piece in the VTDigger for which I was interviewed this week.


On a positive note, last week I began participating in a Zoom study group using the book The Israel-Palestine Conflict: Contested Histories (Contesting the Past) 2nd Edition, Neil Caplan. It was a very well facilitated, safe sharing. I am very inspired to offer the same opportunity to you – a structured yet spacious discussion.  Thus far, 2 people have expressed interest.  I will facilitate this group if there are a minimum of 6 committed people for a 6-week period, 2 hours per session.  We will meet on Zoom.

If there are 6 of you who are interested, we will look for a time that works for everyone.

I look forward to being with many of you this Shabbat, at the Yalla Chaverim family service at 5 pm, at which all are welcome.  If you plan to stay for dinner, please bring food to share.  (We already have plenty of pizza!)  Nearly 80 people (80 is the max capacity) have RSVP’ed for dinner at Next Stage Arts tomorrow evening, Dec 2. I am excited to see you there. Please plan to arrive at 4:45 so that we can begin the meal as close to 5 pm as possible and start cleanup at 6:30, before the concert goers show up.

I also include here a link to a piece by my dear friend, Roberta Wall, from her blog Torah at the Intersection: Writings from the Intersection of Torah, Buddhism and Nonviolent Communication. Trigger warning! I was triggered by parts of this, but that’s life. Do we want to grow beyond our triggers, and if so, how might we accomplish that?


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Amita רב אמיתה


In Mitzrayim – The Double Bind
October 26, 2023

I feel that the Jewish People are in a more agonizing situation now than we have ever been in.  Of course the Shoah involved a far greater loss of life.  But during the Shoah there was no moral dilemma for us.  We are now living with multiple layers of anguish.

1st, more than 1300 innocent people were brutally tortured and massacred, and over 200 taken hostage. It is especially agonizing that so many of the victims were dedicated, courageous peace activists –  the very people who had been helping Bedouin in the Negev and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza for decades.

2nd, Israelis have so much blood on our hands now, we are suffering as victims and perpetrators at the same time.

I participated in a study session with T’ruah (Rabbinic Call for Human Rights) earlier this week, in which we studied several texts, including a traditional rabbinic commentary on Genesis 32, in which Jacob is informed that Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men.  “Jacob was very frightened and distressed.”  Rabbi Yehuda ben Rabbi Ilai said: The fright and the distress are not the same. Rather, he was frightened lest he kill, and distressed lest he be killed. He said: ‘If he overcomes me, may he not kill me, and if I overcome him, may I not kill him.’”

3rd, almost every Israeli and every Palestinian in Israel-Palestine is now living in fear of one other.  This is especially true in and around Jerusalem.

4th, the “Arab street” in all the surrounding countries is inflamed and the whole region is becoming destabilized.

5th, this has kicked up a huge wave of global anti-Semitism, especially on the Left.

I have spent hours deliberating about what I want to share with you here. Type and delete, type and delete.  I know that whatever I write, I will upset some of you.

One of my closest friends in Jerusalem for 12 years has unfriended me.  I know that he is in deep pain and feels betrayed by me.

I argue (mostly in my mind) with people calling for continuing the bombardment and invasion until Hamas is destroyed.  And I argue (also mostly in my mind) with those who criticize Israel for its reaction to the Oct 7 (Black Sabbath/Simchat Torah) massacre.

I go back and forth and tie myself up in mental and emotional knots.  I know many, many Jews – both here and in Israel – who are tied up in these knots.

Israel is in the worst Mitzrayim (literally, double bind) in our history. 

We cannot live alongside Hamas. Most people around the world do not understand how tiny Israel is (the size of New Jersey) and how close Gaza is to the communities where the massacre took place.

Lewiston, Maine, where a crazy person went on a killing spree Wednesday night, is much farther from Brattleboro than Gaza is from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Yet when the doorbell rang at 10 pm Weds night (which turned out to be my housemate who had forgotten her key), I freaked out.

As another American Israeli friend wrote:

“There are many people who blindly support Hamas as if they represent the Palestinians, and justify the merciless attack on unarmed civilians. They turn a blind eye to the utter repression that Hamas has visited on its own people, depriving them of a decent life and livelihood at the expense of arming as well as enriching themselves.

Hamas has built hundreds of miles of tunnels under the Gaza strip to hide their weapons and to be able to make their way into Israel to carry out attacks against civilians; yet they have not seen fit to build bomb shelters for their own people. The opposite is the case: They use their own people, including women and children, as human shields in the hope that Israel will kill them and thus score a media and diplomatic victory.”

And at the same time, the fact remains that the IDF has killed and wounded thousands of people since Oct 7.  And I do not believe that Hamas can be destroyed.  So how will all of this killing help Israel? Many Israelis believe that after this war, after the destruction of Hamas, the people of Gaza will thank us for throwing off the yoke of their oppressors. They fantasize that Gaza will then become a model society, like Germany after WWII.  I do not see this happening.

I feel the need to clarify for anyone who is not aware, that the phrase “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free!” is a call for the destruction of Israel. The Left is using this rallying cry, and I think (at least I hope) that many well-intentioned people do not realize that it is a genocidal statement.  Where will the Jews of Israel go?   And why do the Palestinians deserve the right to national self-determination while the Jews do not?  It is one thing to call for a Two-State Solution, and quite another to use the River to Sea slogan.

It’s so easy for people in North America and Europe to criticize Israel.  The self-righteousness of the Western Left, including many Jews, is deeply disturbing and one-sided.

I am absolutely furious with the Israeli government and the Settler movement, but I also love so much about Israeli society and I love so many Israelis.

I am not comfortable with criticism of Israel from people who do not also deeply love Israel. It’s much easier to receive criticism from people who love you than from people who dislike you or who don’t even know you.

It is easy to call for freedom and justice from the comfort of the Green State.  It’s so easy to pronounce land recognitions and support the Abenaki in theory, knowing that no Abenaki are going to slaughter us.

I am an Israeli citizen. I lived there for 18 years.  And I am also a US citizen, with the privilege of being able to live here now.  The majority of Israelis do not hold dual citizenship, and have nowhere else to go.  We cannot undo history.  Yet, somehow, Israelis and Palestinians must find a way to live together.

The people I respect the most are the Israelis and Palestinians who stand together and refuse to be enemies at this agonizing time for all of us.

Here are links to a few pieces I have read or listened to in the past week, representing different views. I imagine that many of you have already read or listened to these and to many other sources.

Rachel Goldberg’s plea at the UN on Wednesday:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BULds4Wmlm4


Pleas for Peace by Israelis whose family members were slaughtered or abducted


Israeli and Palestinian Peace Activists


Hamas Slaughtered My Wokeness


The Sin of Moral Equivalence (this was easier to hear when published on Oct 12 than it is now.  A bit simplistic, but I still think it’s worth a listen)


I am leaving on Sunday for a retreat with my teacher, Thomas Hubl, and 220 people with whom I have been learning and practicing for nearly 2 years.  Thomas, not a Jew, was born in Austria.  He is married to an Israeli artist whom he met in Berlin. They live in Tel Aviv with their teenage daughter.  His work and teaching is about personal, ancestral and collective trauma integration.  Thomas said that the current situation is not for us to understand with our minds.  

I do not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes we have no choice but to sit in the dark and accept that there are things we cannot understand.

May all of this pain and suffering miraculously be transformed into a peaceful way forward for Jews and Palestinians – a way that most of us do not yet see.

Rabbi Amita  רב אמיתה


Message fromRabbi Ben Weiner of Jewish Community of Amherst in response to the attacks in Israel. This was also read at BAJC’s Vigil on October 12th.

Dear Friends:
Our goal for tonight is to be in solidarity with each other—and I understand that word to mean not lockstep unity, but loving relationship—holding reality together, despite the tensions that may also exist between the different ways we see some aspects of it. I hope we will be in solidarity tonight amongst ourselves as a Jewish community, with the Jews up and down this Valley who are gathering together at this very moment—at Temple Beth El in Springfield, at CBI in Northampton, as well as here–with global Jewry, with our brothers and sisters in the State of Israel, with all innocents who are impacted by hatred and senseless violence.
We gather in this place—in our sanctuary—to express our grief and anger, our fear and despair, our confusion and our resilience, and to seek, at least for a time, comfort and consolation in the experience of being together, and being joined in our experience of the reality of all of these things.
I’m going to try to articulate some thoughts. I want to first apologize to you in advance if any way in which I do that causes you some discomfort and upset. I feel—to use a metaphor that is all too apropos—like I am underneath the rubble of a collapsed house, trying to lift one heavy beam after another off of my crushed body, as I try to come up toward some sense of clarity and response to the horrors we are experiencing. These thoughts are not particularly organized, or in the service of one particular agenda. They just represent my efforts to try to lift up some of this debris.
–What is happening now in Israel is happening to us. There are members of this very community with loved ones who are missing, who are injured, who are dead, who are prisoners. This is not some cliched moment of blue-and-white social media memes. By virtue of love and kinship we are one body, we are all participants in the Jewish experience of history and place, and this has happened to us.
-Jewish historical experience has not afforded us the luxury of the kind of moral purity that others might profess, to know exactly what is right and wrong, and to live in the fantasy of a pure consonance between our ideals and our actions. We have moral responsibility, and we can point toward clear examples of the failure to exercise it, but we also live out the terms of a survival that has been dictated to us by history, by oppression, and by our own right to survive.
-Israeli Jewish blood is not cheap, and it is not licensed to flow in the streets because somehow “they deserve it”, because “the chickens have come home to roost”, because they are themselves responsible for its being spilled. It is spilled by butchers and criminals; and when it is spilled like this, indiscriminately, unfortunately, the response cannot just be grand gestures of universal goodwill, but efforts to put a stop to terror and murder. I am, indeed, as a passive person, sorry that this is so, and I recognize concerns about how this is done and don’t discount them. But we need to understand that such actions, at their core, are efforts by people who love other people to not have those people murdered, terrorized, kidnapped. These are not “genocidal acts of a settler-colonial project”, but, on some essential and immediate level, acts of self-defense that I think most of us, if we really thought about it, would also advocate for if we found the buses in which we put our children being blown up by suicide bombers; the houses in which we live subject to indiscriminate rocket fire, our beautiful youth massacred at dance parties, our babies and elders terrorized and mutilated. Anyone who says otherwise, I suspect, has not really thought it through.
-Many of us have long harbored concerns for the actions of successive Israeli governments, especially this one, for the direction in which is has been leading the country, both with regard to internal policy, and the endless and intensifying brutal military occupation and settlement of the West Bank, and the agony of Gaza. There are many acts of Palestinian resistance and self-emancipation that deserve our attention and, perhaps, allyship, as a Jewish community concerned about justice and human rights. This was not one of them. This is the most egregious in a long legacy of orgiastic acts of violence, bankrolled by powerful governments with imperialistic ambitions, undertaken by exploitative thugs with their own ambitions, and dripping with authoritarian and genocidal intent. While we might, in a generous frame of mind, understand why a downtrodden people will rally behind butchers who wreak violence in their name, we must not confuse one for the other, and we should be courageous ourselves in opposing even those in our progressive circles who choose to see no difference.
-When I have seen images of a father in Gaza cradling his dead child in his arms, I respond with the anguished empathy of a father. There is some feature in my conscience that sears this images even deeper into my psyche than the images of Israeli suffering, and I wonder if I, too, have imbibed the self-immolating narrative of the left that Israelis are not “real people”, just as I know some of my family feels that way about Palestinians. Maybe it is out of awareness that our side is far better resourced and theirs will always suffer more in the end, though we will continue to debate who is to blame; or that their misery is a by-product of our survival, or maybe it arises because I get to live in Deerfield and not Sderot. I only know for sure that they have, are, and will continue to suffer horribly, and this is also one of the beams I am trying to lift off my crushed body.
Somebody asked me a day or two ago what we should hope for, and, in the wisdom of my flippancy, or the flippancy of my wisdom, I responded, “We should hope for hope.” We do this by holding on to our resolve, even in the absence of resolution—by knowing and committing to all of the things we must continue to stand and advocate for: the life, well-being, and defense of Am Yisrael, the grieving for victims and the release of captives, our dignity in the face of a world that would judge us without understanding, and without walking in our shoes, the difference between justice and depravity, between the oppressed and the butcher, the inextricability of our pain from the suffering of our counterparts.
We must find resolve within ourselves to lift up all of these causes, even as we wrestle with the confusion and despair in our spirits. And we do this—we hope for hope—by continuing, relentlessly, to lift up beam after beam, beam after beam, beam after beam, while dreaming that we can somehow salvage from this rubble enough timber to knock up the frame for a house of peace.
Divrei HaRav — Rabbi’s Words from Jerusalem

July 28, 2023

I arrived on Wednesday, July 19.  I wanted to participate in the demonstration against the judicial overhaul last Saturday night, but was unable to keep my eyes open due to jet lag. Sunday was the culmination of the national march from Tel Aviv to the Knesset, but I did not have the energy to join that either.  I had to pack up and move across the city to Ein Karem due to a sudden change in plans of the friends whose home I stayed in the first days.  Ein Karem is a magical place – a village within Jerusalem, near Yad Vashem, on the edge of the forest. Late at night I heard bands of jackals howling. Eerie and beautiful.  On Monday I was determined to go to the protest.  The Knesset was voting that day on a measure limiting the Supreme Court’s ability to review the reasonableness of government decisions.  I hitched a ride up the hill.  The man who picked me up was also going to the protest.  He turned out to be the founder of Hava v’Adam, an eco-educational farm I’ve known about for 13 years but never visited.  https://ecoisrael.org.il/about-the-farm/   We walked ½ hour and then joined the throng, going our separate ways.

I participated in many demonstrations in Israel during the years I lived here – 2009-2021 – never anything like this in character or magnitude.  Normally, at any demonstration, whether in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, I see many people I know.  On Monday I was surrounded by unfamiliar people.  The 100s of 1000s of protesters were “regular” people from all over the country, many of whom had slept in tents on Saturday and Sunday nights in Gan (Park) Sacher.  It was a very strange, novel and moving experience to be protesting in a sea of Israeli flags.  (See Micah Sifry’s, recent piece in the New Republic: Capture the Flag – What Can Americans Learn from the Israeli Protests?  https://newrepublic.com/article/174231/). The night before, I had listened to the webinar with Rabbi Amy Klein, a co-coordinator of the protest movement in the northern Galilee region.  She explained very clearly and convincingly why it was (is) important that the emphasis in these demonstrations was (still is) on the judicial overhaul, and why it would be counterproductive to muddy the waters with messages about our relations with the Palestinians, even for those of us who feel that the Occupation is a fundamental evil and must be dismantled/transformed.  You can watch the recording of that webinar here:  https://youtu.be/koyamcD4Z5k.  (The only person I saw at Monday’s protest whom I knew was Amy Klein, totally by chance. See first picture below).

The current protests are filled with centrists and people to the right of center, as well as leftists. The central cry is “Democracy!”  Friends have told me that at the weekly Jerusalem protests (unlike the national one I went to at the Knesset), fully ⅓ of the people are religious, men in kippot and women with head coverings.  See this video of a passionate speech by MK (Knesset Member) Rabbi Gilad Kariv, former Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, the day before the vote. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGaHO4muyR

The government voted in favor of doing away with the “reasonableness” standard.  The protests will continue.  If you want to support the movement to defend Israeli democracy, you might consider donating to https://www.standing-together.org/en . There are many other organizations that have grown out of this movement. I will send you more information as I gather it.

Wednesday night, Erev Tisha B’Av, I attended a public chanting of Eicha, the book of Lamentations, in Zion Square, the central square in Jerusalem.  There were about 500 people there.  Straw mats were placed all over the square, as it’s customary to sit on the ground for the reading. Eicha means “How.”

After the reading, which was chanted in 5 different melodies by 5 beautiful singers, men and women (Ashkenazi, Moroccan, Yemenite, and other modes I didn’t recognize), there were about 10 simultaneous discussion circles on various topics relating to Israeli society. I found it difficult to hear and thus difficult to follow, but the atmosphere was very peaceful and hopeful, even though Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning and fasting. On this day we mourn the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples and Jerusalem (576 BCE and 70 CE), the suffering and starvation of the people of those periods, the exiles, and all the catastrophes that have occurred on or close to the 9th of the month of Av over the centuries, the latest one being Israel’s current crisis and Monday’s vote.

The following morning (yesterday), I went on a pilgrimage with Rabbi Arik Ascherman to Palestinian and Bedouin communities in the West Bank and the Negev that have been destroyed, attacked, or threatened with destruction.  I did the same thing last year and several years prior.  To me, and for all who participated, it’s a very meaningful, relevant way to observe this day.  For pictures and videos, see Arik Ascherman’s facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/arik.ascherman   Just as I feel it’s important to immerse myself in documentation/stories/films of the Shoah at least once a year, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, I find that Tisha B’Av has become for me a time to open my eyes and heart to the ongoing destruction we (Israel) are allowing – and thereby responsible for – in Palestinian communities.  As much as I already know, I am shocked and pained each time I am confronted with what is going on – the strategy of squeezing people out of their land and homes.  You can help by contributing to Rabbis for Human Rights and Torat Tzedek https://www.torat-tzedek.org/ HaMoked https://hamoked.org/ .  There are many other organizations helping people on the ground. I hope to share with you more about this journey with a slideshow on Zoom/Hybrid in November.

The surviving cats whom I fed on my back porch for 9 years recognized me immediately when I returned to the sidewalk in front of my former home.  Today I was at a gathering to honor the memory of a brilliant rabbi and friend who left this world 11 months ago.  On Saturday night I will attend a concert by Neshama Carlebach, the daughter of Shlomo Carlebach, z”l.  There is much more to share.  I am very grateful for this month of reconnection and renewal in my other home.


Receiving the Torah at Sinai, and Why We Eat Dairy on Shavuot
May 25, 2023

Today is the last day of the 49-day Omer Counting period, the journey from Liberation to Revelation. At sundown this evening, Shavuot begins.

It is well-known that on Pesach we are instructed to re-experience coming out of Mitzrayim (the archetypical tight spot). On Shavuot we are invited to re-experience standing together at Sinai, hearing God speaking clearly and directly to each of us, in community. The community piece is essential. We are the only religion with the foundational understanding that Divine Truth was revealed to an entire people, not just to one individual.

We believe (or at least imagine) that the soul of every Jew alive today, whether a Jew by birth or by choice (conversion), was present at this moment of Revelation.

Jewish holidays are an invitation not only to mentally remember mythohistorical events (the border between myth and history in Torah is blurry), but to re-experience the essence of those events with our hearts and bodies as well as our minds, whether or not they actually took place.


This week I attended a Jewish meditation group in which for the first time I heard the suggestion to think of the Ten Commandments, which in Hebrew are called the 10 Dibrot (from the root ד–ב–ר / d-v-r, meaning both utterance and thing), as 10 Practices. (This approach was suggested by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg). We will explore this together on Shabbat morning, May 27, the 2nd day of Shavuot.

May we each feel our connection to that moment of collective revelation in our mytho-history, and may we each open to and receive new, ongoing insights and revelations to guide us into our collective future.

Why Dairy on Shavuot?

I have been asked this question several times over the past few weeks. As with almost all questions about Jewish tradition, there is more than one answer.
The explanation that I like the best is that Torah is like mother’s milk
A human baby can live and even thrive on formula.
A Jew can thrive on the wisdom of other spiritual and cultural traditions.
And, if we learn to latch on and nurse, I believe we can all receive yummy, healthy nourishment from Torah.
We are blessed to live in a time and place in which we can continue to drink and delight, learn and grow from other sources and in other communities.
And, there’s no place like home, and nothing as wholesome as mother’s milk.

Rabbi Amita
רב אמיתה

PS — When I asked the children in Yalla Chaverim what we do on Shavuot, they remembered with enthusiasm from last year: “Stay up all night and eat ice cream!”

We just passed through Yamim Noraim – Days of Awe
April 27, 2023 

This is one of our names for the period starting on Erev Rosh Hashanah and ending with Ne’ilah on Yom Kippur.  Israelis sometimes refer to the period between Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day (which this year fell on April 17-18) and Israel’s Memorial Day immediately followed by Israeli Independence Day (April 24-26), as the Israeli Days of Awe.

A few of you were able to attend the international  Zoom event inspired by Etty Hillesum for Yom HaShoah. This annual ritual is skillfully, wisely, lovingly facilitated by peacemakers Dina Awwad-Srour (Palestinian) and Emma Sham-ba Ayalan (Israeli).  You can watch the recording of the ritual at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKdB9lYbH-Y
Others of you were able to attend our BAJC Zoom presentation with Paul Davidovits, father of BAJC member Michael Davidovits.  Paul survived the Shoah in Slovakia as a young child, due to the ingenuity of his beautiful, courageous, highly principled mother – and of course due to good Mazal, as so many others did not survive, regardless of their virtues.

Last Wednesday night I was deeply moved by the hometown (Northampton, MA) premier of an extraordinarily inspiring film: Four Winters: A Story of Jewish Partisan Resistance and Bravery in WWII.  Visit http://www.jewishpartisansfilm.com/ for screenings in New England, NY and elsewhere this spring, summer and fall, and look for it on streaming platforms in the winter.

Last Sunday, 23 of us gathered on Greenleaf for a dinner catered by a Palestinian friend of mine, and an open sharing of our complex feelings about Israel.  Seven of you joined the discussion via Zoom.  It was an amazingly civil sharing, deepening the sense of trust in our community.  

Thank you to Chris Mansfield, Sue Lederer, Kim Effron, Richard Evers and Donna Hadjipopov for their help with dinner set up and/or clean up.  (Please forgive me if I forgot you!) 

Some of you were able to view the 18th annual Joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial this past Monday, live from Tel Aviv.  Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, is the most somber day of the year in Israel, even more than Yom HaShoah, since half of Israel’s Jewish population is Mizrachi – i.e. people born in or descended from those born in North Africa or the Middle East, and do not feel personally related to the Holocaust.  Access a recording of this moving ceremony, where Israelis and Palestinians share their grief, their hope, and their commitment to peace & justice, with English subtitles, at  www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxbkR9_ZTrw

As this is the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, there are many more programs (in person and Zoom) in the coming weeks.  This one caught my attention:

On April 30th The Center for Jewish History presented a symposium: ZIONISM AND AMERICAN JEWS: BRINGING US TOGETHER AND PULLING US APART.

And from the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem (where I have studied — brilliant, creative faculty!): https://www.hartman.org.il/program/israel-at-75/?mc_cid=3ea5f26b88&mc_eid=3bd020458c

I believe it is important for all of us to engage with Israel in some way.  Whether your primary emotional response to Israel is pride or shame or a combination of the two, or even if you are totally numb (a common response these days), we are all related to Israel simply by virtue of being Jews. It is upon us to educate ourselves, visit Israel AND Palestine, and find organizations in Israel-Palestine that we want to support financially, even if we are of modest means. 

The Modern State of Israel Turns 75 on April 23, 2023  
On the eve of this significant anniversary, Israel is going through a painful but apparently necessary process. I pray that the mass protest movement in Israel will bring about a serious change for the better, not just protecting the threatened power of Israel’s Supreme Court and maintaining a democracy for Jews, but reckoning with the corrosive effects of the 54 year Occupation. Tragically, Israel also needs to reckon with the fact that there is an inherent contradiction in the idea of Jewish Democratic state, when even within the green line, 22% of Israel’s citizens are not Jews. I say this as an Israeli citizen, and one who deeply loves Israel.

I deeply resonate with Gershon Baskin, an Israeli Peace activist whom I have known for > 30 years, specifically in his Jerusalem Post column two months ago:     https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-731720. Gershon writes a weekly column in the jpost.  Here is the link to his April 20th column about the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial ceremony.  https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-739699

This Sunday evening, April 23, from 6-8:30 pm, we will carefully enter into a sharing of our feelings about Israel today. In that discussion, I will invite you to see yourselves as one or more of the 4 children in the Seder – the “Wise” One, the “Rebellious” One, the “Simple” One, and the “One Who Does Not Know What to Ask.”  All of these children – all of you – deserve a place at the table, and in this community.

This is not an informational session.  It is an opportunity to listen to one another.  After an initial invitation to share in groups of 3, we will form one circle and I will keep time, limiting each speaker to 3 minutes.  No one can speak a 2nd time until everyone who wants to express something has spoken.  

Why Palestinian and not Israeli food?

The simple answer is that Yalla Vermont is closed until May 4.  As it happens, my friend Ismail Assad recently opened a food truck in Greenfield.  I met Ismail at EcoME,https://ecomecenter.org/en/about-us/ an experimental, intercultural community on the road to the Dead Sea that operated for 8 seasons (October-May, as between June-Sept it is intolerably hot there with no AC). EcoMe offered courses in NVC, Yoga, Dance,  Hebrew and Arabic languages, permaculture, and hosted many events. I attended workshops there. Ismail actually lived there with Israelis, other Palestinians, and internationals for 4 seasons.  When I returned to New England to be the BAJC rabbi, a mutual friend informed me that, serendipitously, he was living nearby.  (BTW, he is desperate to obtain permanent US residence status, with an appeal for his immigration case scheduled in Boston on June 6.  Please contact me at ravamita@bajcvermont.org if you know of a good immigration lawyer in MA or are able to help with legal fees).

Unfortunately, Ismail cannot join us for this discussion, as he has to work.  This discussion and dinner has been moved from Friday to Sunday because the month-long fast of Ramadan ends with Eid el Fitr on Friday night, and he will be celebrating through Saturday night.  (He has been cooking and serving food all month while fasting).

I hope to see you and hear your voice at this discussion

Rabbi Amita
רב אמיתה

Renewal – The Next Phase of our Journey Begins

April 4, 2023

Modah Ani  (I give thanks).

It’s been 5 1/2 months since our Board invited me to extend my relationship with BAJC beyond June 30 of this year.  It’s been a long, complex, demanding journey for all of us engaged in the process of negotiating this contract, which has finally been agreed upon. Halleluyah!  I offer my sincere thanks to the 9 dedicated members of our Board, especially to President Chris Mansfield.  Thanks also to Tom Franks and the other 3 members of the Human Capital Campaign committee. And thank you to all the other members of this community who have been passionately engaged in this process with us.  I have learned a lot through this.  Learning and growth often involve some pain. I see this as a birthing process for Shir Heharim-BAJC.  We are moving into a new stage. There have been contractions and there has been pushing.  It has been painful and scary at times. Now we have come through it together and I feel relief and excitement. I hope you do too.

Hineni. I am here.  We will move forward together, one step at a time.

Pesach is also about birthing – the birthing process of our
People from Mitzrayim, the narrow, familiar place of slavery, through the Sea, into the unknown Wilderness. Passover is the most familiar, beloved holiday of American Jewry – the holiday when extended families gather. Most of us have clear memories of the Seders of our childhoods. Those of us who grew up with Jewish parents, even if they were not at all religious, celebrated this one holiday (and maybe also lit Chanukah candles, but there is far more content to Pesach than Chanukah).  We all have favorite traditions inherited from our families, and also traditions we have collected along the way.  There are literally tens of thousands of Haggadot, all following the same order (seder = order), but with different emphases, different approaches, different interpretations. It is a mitzvah to expound upon the story.

I share here a link to a brand new Israeli Haggadah, hot off the presses, of today’s protest movement. It includes photographs. The supplementary readings are translated into English. Be patient flipping through the Hebrew ‘til you come to the next English section. It loses something in translation, but you can get a sense of the anguish and anger that many Israelis are feeling.

When I was a child, I thought that Passover = 2 Seders.  Being from a secular family, I didn’t know that Passover  goes on for 7 days (8 in the Diaspora).  In my grandmother’s kitchen in Queens, we ate matzah brei for breakfast  after the seder, but if we stayed more than 2 days, we also ate bagels.  (In those days, there were no good bagels  outside of NYC).

Passover itself is only the first week in a 7 week + 1 day (50 day) journey, leading us from slavery to birth to marriage with the Divine at Sinai.  Throughout the 49 days between Pesach (Redemption) and Shavuot (Revelation), there is a practice of Counting the Omer each evening, beginning at the end of the 2nd seder.  Jewish traditions evolve. In the Torah, Sefirat HaOmer was literally counting sheaves of barley that we carried up to the Temple.

In medieval times, this was transformed into a mystical practice of refining ourselves through contemplating divine emanations. There are many Omer counters with meditations for each night. Sefirat Ha’Omer is a process of reflecting on where we are in relation to each possible combination of the lower 7 Sefirot (Divine Energies) in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Here’s a free Omer counter online.

May this month be full of blessings. As the earth softens with the spring, may we soften, exhale, expand, and feel the
support of both heaven and earth in each step of our journey together.

Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Amita

What is Hidden in Purim? (Not just for kids)
March 2, 2023

Purim is a minor Jewish holiday. Since I was about 12 years old, it has been my least favorite. I have been averse to raucous partying my whole life, challenged by masks and costumes, uncomfortable acting, and I’ve never liked the effects of alcohol. In short, you might say I’m overly serious.

At the other end of the spectrum, Yom Kippur is my favorite holiday.  It is the culmination of a 40 day period of reflection and making amends, a day of prayer, fasting, and awe.  On Yom Kippur, we are reminded that we are tiny specks in the universe, fragile, mortal,  and that ultimately, our fate is in the hands of forces beyond us.

These two holidays are connected in several ways.  In a literal way, they are almost the same word, as another name for Yom Kippur is Yom Hakippurim  יום הכיפורים, which literally means the Day of Atonements, but could also be translated as “the day like Purim.”  An implication of this is that what seem like opposites are often very similar when you delve deeper.  This is suggested in the mitzvah that on Purim we should become so intoxicated that we cannot distinguish between “Blessed is Mordecai” and “Cursed is Haman.”

On a physical level, both fire and ice burn.  Emotionally, deep grief and tremendous joy can feel similar – they meet in Love.  Individuals with intense, polarized opinions are often very similar.  Those who make great efforts not to be like their parents usually end up realizing how fundamentally similar they are.  Take some time to think about how, in your experience, apparent opposites are similar.

Purim is also about the reversal of fortune. Haman, the King’s vizier, plots to kill all the Jews in the Persian empire because Mordecai the Jew won’t bow down to him.  In the end, Haman is hanged and Mordecai becomes the vizier.  This story is recounted in the biblical book of Esther.  While Orthodox Jews believe that the Purim story is historical, there is no evidence that any of it actually took place.  It is both a farce and a revenge fantasy of an oppressed People.

Another important fact about the Book of Esther is that God’s name does not appear in it even once.  Esther, the name that Hadassah (her birth name) is given when she goes to compete in King Ahasverus’ contest for a new queen, is based on the name of the Mesopotamian goddess of love and sexuality, Ishtar.   But also, in Hebrew, Esther אסתר shares the root        ס – ת – ר  of the word for hidden.  This hiddenness has a double meaning in the story.  Esther must hide her Jewish identity from the King, and God is hidden in the frivolity and farce of the Purim story and the entire festival. But hidden does not mean absent.  While it appears that everything in the story happens through either human agency (Esther’s courage) or through chance (Purim literally means “lots,” as in lottery) the miraculous twist of fate can also be seen as divine intervention.

So although I began this piece by saying that Purim is my least favorite holiday, this serious rabbi must admit that there is more to it than meets the eye.  I promise to make an effort to embrace the silliness and fun this year. I may even imbibe half a glass of wine.  I’ll definitely be dancing!

L’Chayim!        לחיים ולשמחה

Rabbi Amita   רב אמיתה

Terumah- Offerings
February 22, 2023

This week’s Torah portion, Exodus 25:1 – 27:19, is Terumah, meaning contribution, donation or offering.
“YHVH  יהוה spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.”
After specifying the gifts that are needed, YHVH instructs:“V’Asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham.”  
“And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”

Herein lies one of the most central teachings of Torah: It’s not about the material stuff itself, but the hearts that are moved to contribute.  Many Torah commentators through the centuries have pointed out that God did not / does not dwell in the physical sanctuary, but rather that the collective process of building something together, with generous hearts, is what drew/draws YHVH (God/Holiness Light/Love) to dwell amongst us.  
Note that the word for dwell has the root  ש – כ – ן as in שכינה – Shekhinah, aka the Indwelling Presence, also understood as the feminine aspect of God. 

{Look for an announcement in the March newsletter about a class on the magic of Hebrew words and letters.  No previous knowledge of Hebrew required}.

It’s not that the specific instructions don’t matter at all. 
If someone asks for tulips and you bring roses, or apples and you bring oranges, or a hug and you give advice, it doesn’t mean you don’t love them or you’re not a good person; but YHVH is most present when requests are fulfilled with a generous heart. 

(If you ask for tulips and I begrudgingly bring them to you, is that better or worse than lovingly giving you something other than what you asked for?)

Terumah contains the root (ר – ו – ם) — “to raise up.”   By both paying attention (which in Hebrew is translated as “putting heart”) to what is being requested, and giving with a generous heart, we are each lifting ourselves up, and also elevating the energy of our community as a whole.

Thank you to all of you who, in the past 3 weeks, have pledged to the human capital campaign for the sake of elevating/growing/injecting life and energy into Shir Heharim-BAJC.   

Thank you to all who contribute gifts of the heart as an annual statement of membership and support. 

Thank you for the enormous amount of time and energy that so many of you invest in BAJC. 

And thank you for whatever time, energy and skills you contribute, even if it’s not an “enormous” amount.

(Specific thank yous will appear in the March monthly newsletter and all monthly newsletters).

And thank you in advance to those who will share a bit about something you are passionate about this Friday evening after Kabbalat Shabbat and dinner.  That too is a gift of the heart. 

Today, Feb 22, 2023, is Rosh Chodesh (new Moon of) Adar. 
The Talmud teaches: “When Adar enters, happiness increases.” (Tractate Ta’anit, 29a). 
Ken Y’hi Ratzon — May it be so!
Chodesh Tov! 

Laws to be Proud of, Perplexed by, and to Ponder
February 16, 2023

This Shabbat we read Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1–24:18, which contains 53 laws, a mixture of ethical and ritual. Some align with our contemporary values and some may seem meshuganeh.  In contrast with every other portion since we began the Torah cycle in late October, there is very little narrative in this one.  But some of these laws contain colorful scenarios to contemplate, be shocked, intrigued and entertained by, and many to be proud of.

Many of the laws in this portion have to do with preventing abuse of the vulnerable: servants, wage laborers, orphans, widows, the poor.  One is the commandment: “You shall not oppress a Ger (stranger), for you know the feeling of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”  The Talmud points out that the Torah repeats some version of this law 36 times.  Ger is a term which has been interpreted in many ways, some of which exclude Palestinians, as they are seen by some, including the current extremely nationalist Israel government, not as strangers who dwell among us, but as enemies. (You can guess my opinion on this).

When I was at Amherst Regional High School, there was an English elective in Bible.  One assignment was to keep a scrapbook throughout the semester in which we recorded and pasted sightings of Biblical references on the street and in the media. One of the most famous, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…”  is in this Torah portion.

We also find here laws about what to do about a woman who miscarries when pushed while caught between 2 brawling men, manslaughter, a goring ox, a wandering ass, an accidentally spreading fire, a tunneling thief, prohibitions against accepting bribes, against eating treyf (literally flesh torn by wild beasts), and many others.

Whatever our concerns about the legislature and judiciary in the US and in Israel (never mind law enforcement, which is not dealt with in Torah), imagine creating an entire legal system from scratch.  Is a legal system essential?  I believe so.  This is what the Torah begins to do in this portion, coming right after the 10 Dibrot / Commandments / Utterances.  According to the Torah itself, the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, but one can see in the civil laws here that they did not arise in a vacuum. There is clear borrowing and editing from other legal codes of the Ancient Near East, e.g. the Code of Hammurabi.

Last year we divided the Hebrew School Chaverim (now Yalla Chaverim) into groups of 2 or 3 and asked them to come up with what they felt were the 3 most important laws.

What 3 or 10 laws would you emphasize in creating a just society?

Join us this Shabbat morning from 10-12 for morning services with plenty of singing as always, and at around 11, a Torah reading with thematic aliyot and discussion of some of these mishpatim (laws).   After the service, we will eat a shtetl menu lunch together, catered by our own Chelsa Roy, funded by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.   Afterwards, some of us will go together to BUHS for the matinee of Fiddler on the Roof.

Before signing off this week, I would like to add 2 things (note: in Hebrew, “word” and “thing” can both be translated as d’var דבר ):

1) Prayers for the millions of people affected by the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey.  I hope that in addition to other tzedakah commitments, you are able to give something to help people impacted by this immense disaster. Visit https://www.charitynavigator.org/  for recommendations of where to donate.

2) Thank you to all of you who have expressed your love and dedication to the vitality of BAJC with pledges to the Human Capital Campaign.  If you have any questions or concerns that you would like to address to me — in addition to Tom Franks and Chris Mansfield who are ably heading up the campaign — feel free to email me at ravamita@bajcvermont.org.

Rabbi Amita
רב אמיתה


What does Kabbalah mean?
February 9, 2023

This past Tuesday was the 1st meeting of the reignited BAJC Meditation group.  Thank you to Ami Ji Schmid for facilitating so beautifully.  We meet Tuesdays from 6-7 pm with rotating leadership. All are warmly welcome. Anyone can lead, but willingness to lead is not a requirement for participation.  Contact Laura at options@myfairpoint.net for more information. Before our 20 minutes of silence, Ami asked what arises in us when we hear the word Kabbalah.  Each of the 8 of us who were present this Tuesday had a different response. This was mine:

Kabbalah קבלה means receiving.  Since each letter in the Hebrew Alphabet (Aleph-Bet) has spiritual meaning, I sometimes look at the letters for deeper insight into the word.  Kuf ק is the only non-final letter that goes below the line.  To me, the leg of the ק that extends below the line feels grounding.  The next letter, Beit ב means house/home. The lamed ל connects us with the sky/heavens.  As I shared during the High Holidays in the context of the word Melech מלך, (King/Sovereign), the lamed ל is the letter of transmission, learning, teaching. The hey ה at the end is not part of the root of the word. However, it does affect the meaning, as ה , appearing twice in the 4-letter ineffable name YHVH, signifies God.  When attached to קבל, it implies Receptivity to Divine Source.

So the root word קבל (K-B-L) invites me to feel my roots in the earth, notice and feel that I’m at home, wherever I am, and allow myself to receive light, inspiration and Love through my crown.  (Of course we can also receive through our hearts and through our whole embodied selves, from one another and the earth).

This week’s Torah portion is called Yitro (Jethro), named for Moses’ father-in-law, a Midianite priest.  The Revelation at Mt Sinai occurs in this portion.  We as a People receive the 10 “Commandments” (10 dibrot actually means Utterances) and the entire Torah.  This event is called both Matan Torah (the Giving of Torah) and Kabbalat Torah (the Receiving of Torah).  If the Torah were given and not received, then the giving would be fruitless.

I imagine we all know what it feels like to attempt to give to someone(s) who is not willing or able to receive what we are offering. And I imagine we also all know what it feels like to be unable to receive from someone who wants to give to us.  Unsuccessful transmission is painful from both sides.

May we continue to grow in our ability to both give and receive, with a balance of Hesed (generosity, loving kindness), and Gevurah (clarity, discernment, healthy boundaries).

Rabbi Amita   רב אמיתה


Growing Jewish Community: Vision, Momentum, Enthusiasm, Commitment
February 3, 2023

Energy, excitement and engagement are growing at Shir Heharim-BAJC.

Since September, beginning with the the Yamma Ensemble dinner (attended by 60) and concert (attended by 150), then the first joyful meeting of this year’s Yalla Chaverim family education program at Green Mountain Orchards, the High Holidays, Sukkot, and every single meeting of Yalla Chaverim, I have been seeing the fruits of my labor, and of our shared labor.

In only a year, we have been able to:

  • Engage veteran members who had drifted away and attract new members

  • Engage non-members with BAJC

  • Do outreach via the high school

  • Secure a $8500 grant to create a vibrant Family Education program and start a monthly Tot Shabbat for 1-6 year olds and their parents.

  • Secure a $7000 grant for teen programming. Teens are a challenge to engage. We are hopeful that a group will come together to build an outdoor oven on our property this spring.

  • Secure a $1000 grant for Sukkot programming attended by 45 adults.

  • Offer other meaningful opportunities for engaging in Jewish life and building community, among them:

    • Humans of Israel Photo Exhibition with two programs in which members shared personal, moving Israel Stories.

    • Weekly Spiritual Texts group via Zoom for 4 months last year

    • Bring new participants to the Bimah and the piano during the High Holidays

These initiatives have awakened a positive Jewish identity in some. Outreach in the high school is also countering the spread of anti-Semitism through an accessible, non-judgmental presentation of Judaism and Jewishness. Our Yalla Chaverim program is cultivating an energetic community of engaged children and parents.

Coming this month!

  • Shabbat lunch with a shtetl menu, before the Feb 18 matinee of Fiddler on the Roof!

  • The first in a series of TED talks after Shabbat dinner, where members and friends of BAJC will share your passions with others in the community.  The TED talks series idea came to me because each person I’ve spoken with here for more than 10 minutes has impressed me with your passions, life stories, wisdom, and depth of presence. I am excited to continue to get to know you, and for you to get to know, enjoy and be inspired by one another.

I am passionate about connecting Jewish people with Jewish traditions, Jewish community, and the Jewish parts of ourselves.

I believe that we Jews have all been handed a gift, and many people never open the package.

We each have the potential to heal and integrate the traumas of our personal pasts in this lifetime.

We each also have the potential to heal our ancestral and collective trauma.

We may grow new branches and be deeply nourished by other communities and through other traditions, but I believe that we cannot be fully integrated, healthy people if we cut ourselves off from our roots.


Is YHVH Everywhere?
January 26, 2023

In Parashat Bo, the 3rd portion in the book of Exodus, Moshe and Aharon continue to plead with Pharoah to let the Israelites go.  In this portion, the Egyptians are smitten with the last 3 plagues: locusts, darkness and the killing of the first born.

One of the most “drashed”  (interpreted) verses in this portion is the first one: Exodus 10:1: “Then יהוה said to Moses, Come to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them…”

While most translations change בא Bo to “Go”, the literal translation is “Come.” In the craft of interpretation, every word receives attention. If the author of the Torah (be that author human or Divine) had meant to say “Go”, they would have said written it that way.  There are plenty of other places  in Torah where the word “Go”  (Lech לך) is used, such as in the 3rd portion of Genesis, when YHVH tells Avram (not yet Avraham) “Lech Lecha” – Go forth, another highly drashed phrase, oft interpreted as “Go to Yourself.”

Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (better known as the Kotzker Rebbe, 1787-1859) taught that Bo implies that YHVH is reminding Moshe that YHVH is everywhere, and God will be with him when he approaches Pharaoh, as in “Come with Me.”

Another way to look at this, very popular in the Jewish circles I travel and Zoom in, is that God was/is/will be actually IN Pharaoh.  This is a very difficult concept to swallow.  Easy to say, hard to really believe and live by.  What does that mean?  What can we learn from such a perspective?

Some believe that God is only Good, or IN the Good.  Others believe that God is Everything, or IN everything.  I relate to YHVH in all of those ways, depending on the moment, and don’t demand of myself to choose.  It can be entertaining and engaging to discuss theology, but what matters is how we live with ourselves and others.

With International Holocaust Remembrance Day upon us (Jan 27), acknowledging that God was in Pharaoh is the near equivalent of saying God was in Hitler.  (For me, Hitler is a much tougher character to find God in than Pharaoh. I have empathy for the Egyptian ruler, whose heart was hardened by YHVH).  Nevertheless, it’s a thought to sit with, breathe into and notice our reactions.

It is incumbent upon us all to look at the ways we harden our hearts toward others, and first and foremost towards ourselves. I strongly believe (I even daresay I know, from my own inner explorations) that heart-hardening starts within, towards ourselves.

May we all be aware of the ways we harden our hearts, and grow in compassion for ourselves and others.

Rabbi Amita 
רב אמיתה

Coming out of the Narrow Place Singing
January 20, 2023

As is always the case, we begin reading the book of Exodus (Shemot ) sometime between late December and mid-January, 13 weeks after Simchat Torah, and several months before Pesach.  We retell the story of our slavery and liberation in detail at the Passover seder(s) every year, reflecting on the ways we are enslaved and the ways we are free.

The Torah portions in the beginning of the book of Exodus, which we began to read on January 14 this year, are packed with essential moments. Moses is born, is rescued by the love and ingenuity of women, grows up in Pharaoh’s palace, awakens to the oppression of his kinsfolk, slays a taskmaster, travels to Midian, marries the daughter of a Midianite Priest, becomes a shepherd, and experiences Revelation.  God appears to him in a Burning Bush as Ehiyeh Asher Ehiyeh – “I Will Be What I Will Be.”  (We could easily discuss that scene alone for several hours.) Ehiyeh tells Moses to return to Egypt to liberate the Israelites.  Moses resists the call, but God doesn’t let him off the hook. God tells him to team up with his brother Aaron, an eloquent speaker.  After their first confrontation with Pharaoh, Pharaoh reacts by making the slaves work even harder. 

In addition to reading the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim (Exodus) on Passover and during the annual Torah reading cycle in early winter, we are reminded twice each day of our collective Coming out of the Narrow Place, when we chant Mi Kamocha.  Torah tells us that this was sung by the Children of Israel after crossing the Sea.  We will chant from that portion on Feb 4, on the day referred to as Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Singing, in our communal home on Greenleaf Street with a chanting circle led by Itai Gal.

When I was a rabbi in midcoast Maine from 2004-2009, there was a tradition initiated by a family an hour north of the shul, to go cross-country skiing and snowshoeing through the woods and across a frozen lake, simulating the biblical crossing of the Sea.  We stopped every 10 minutes along our snowy trek to chant a part of the service, and after “crossing the sea”, we chanted the Song at the Sea (Shirat HaYam) from photocopies of that section of the Torah portion.  

I had hoped to do this with Shir HeHarim-BAJC this year, but there is no guarantee of snow on the ground or even a pond that is frozen enough to promise safe crossing.  So we will enjoy a chanting service facilitated by Itai, and then those who feel able and inspired will walk down to the stream on our property, and return to our sanctuary to hear the chanting of Shirat HaYam from the Torah scroll. 

After the service we will enjoy a Tu B’Shvat Seder based on the mystical seder created by Isaac Luria (aka the Ari) and his disciples in 16th century Tsfat. The Tu B’Shvat Seder is an ever-evolving celebration, combining Kabbalah and contemporary environmental values.  

Shabbat Shalom v’Chodesh Tov       
Rabbi Amita     רב אמיתה

A Shabbat to Remember
January 12, 2023

Last Friday 40 people shared a wonderful evening at the shul.  It had snowed all day, but the roads were clear and the planned event with the cast of Fiddler on the Roof took place with excellent attendance. 17 Brattleboro Union High School students and 23 adults came to 151 Greenleaf.  6 more people joined in via Zoom.  At least 9 of us (9 that I am aware of) were Jews who had not participated in any activities with Shir Heharim-BAJC in the past, or if so, it had been decades ago.

The students were all attentive, curious, and respectful.  Collectively we entered into the sacred time/space of Shabbat when the candles were lit and we all brought in the light 7 times (for the 7 days of the week), from our crowns to the soles of our feet.


Rick Bayer spoke of the transition from experiencing ourselves as “human doings” to human beings.  He and I both shared the feeling of Shabbat “coming in” in Jerusalem or Tzfat (Safed)… all the hussle and bustle of preparing for the Holy Day followed by a hush that descends over the city.
The students asked thoughtful questions such as, in a place and time like Anatevka, with no cars or screens (TV, computer, phone), what made Shabbat different from other days?  They asked what the ark was, and I explained the symbols on it – including the Tree of Life.  The Torah is called a Tree of Life, and the Tree of Life also refers to the 10 Sephirot – emanations of divine energy, which are one schema for the composition of the world, and which are also mapped onto the human body like the chakras.  I also explained that the Hebrew letters are understood mystically to be the building blocks of creation, and each letter has its own energy.  Stephan brought our attention to the Ner Tamid, which represents the golden Menorah that burned constantly in our wilderness Mishkan (sanctuary/tabernacle).

We sang Lecha Dodi (Come My Beloved to Greet the Bride) – the bride being Shabbat herself, and, as was the custom of the Kabbalists in Tzfat who developed the entire ritual of Kabbalat Shabbat, we all went outside to greet her for the last verse.  (They would sing and pray all of Kabbalat Shabbat in the fields.  We only sang the last verse out in the cold!)

Before eating, we all did the ritual of Netilat Yadayim.  I explained that the Shabbat table represents the altar in the Mishkan. We wash and lift up our hands as the Cohanim cleansed themselves before performing the sacrifices.  It’s customary not to speak from the time we do the ritual hand washing until we say HaMotzi, but often people hum niggunim (wordless melodies) during that interval.  Being 40 people, it took a good 20 minutes for everyone to do the handwashing.  Each student took this so seriously, embracing the opportunity to immerse themselves in the Shabbat experience as they prepare to be the Jews of Anatevka.  We hummed melodies from Fiddler on the Roof as well as traditional Shabbat melodies.

There was no talking or eating until everyone had their cup of grape juice and piece of challah.  The students agreed that the first bite of bread tastes all the more delicious when you wait so long in silence and bless it together before eating.

At the meal each person introduced themselves and shared who they are in the musical.  I had promised that after dinner, I would show them the Torah.  A few had to leave after the meal, but most stayed, and were very excited to see the scroll up close.  I explained what it is made of, and that it takes about a year to write it, with a special quill and special ink. I know several Sofer Stams (Torah scribes).  The one I know best lives in Jerusalem, and goes to the mikveh every morning before he begins to work.

I let them hold the Torah, but when the first young woman felt how heavy it is, she was afraid to try to hold it herself, especially since I told them that if it falls, the congregation has to fast for 40 days (1 person per day).   [Later, I read that this is not true. One who drops a Torah is supposed to fast for 1-3 days.  The whole congregation does not have to participate in a rotating 40-day fast, although I do know of communities who have chosen to do this]. 

I love experiencing the Torah and Judaism through the eyes of people who know little or nothing about it, and who are comfortable with their Beginners’ Minds.  It’s human nature to enjoy sharing what we love with interested people who have not been exposed to that ‘something’ before, whether it’s a particular trail in the woods, a favorite dish we like to cook, a work of art, a book, or a good friend. 

I am extremely grateful to Rebekah Kersten, the theater teacher/director at BUHS, for organizing this with me.  I am grateful to all the students, teachers and parents who came last Friday, and to every member of BAJC who was here to welcome them.  Thanks to Judith Reichsmann, Teresa Savel, her friend David, Sue Lederer, Kim Effron and Marsha Stern for all their help with set up and clean up, and to Lizi Rosenberg for baking challah. (My sincere apologies if I am forgetting someone who helped a lot!)  Everyone brought plenty of yummy food. 

On Saturday morning, the fun and learning continued in joyful community with another Yalla Chaverim family service, during which we completed the book of Genesis.  After the service, we all ate Chelsa’s delicious challah and amazing rugelach baked by Anna May Seaver. The children learned Hebrew and acted out selections from the Joseph story while the parents had a meaningful discussion about challenging sibling relationships and other sensitive subjects.

I’m always a bit sad when we leave the intimate book of Genesis, with its complex family dynamics, and move on to our collective national story in Exodus.  God willing, we’ll all be alive to dive into Genesis again next year.

Chazak Chazak v’Nitchazek  –  חזק חזק ונתחזק  – Be Strong, Be Strong, and May We Be Strengthened (and May We Strengthen One Another).

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Amita     רב אמיתה


Rabbi’s Column
January 2, 2023

We Jews live in two civilizations, so although Christmas and the secular New Year are not Jewish holidays, they affect us, and many of us celebrate these days along with our Christian friends, and in many cases family members.

I have never been big on celebrating the secular New Year. I’m grateful for Rosh Hashanah, which holds and offers meaning that the turning of the Gregorian year does not.  We can of course choose to insert meaning into the Gregorian new year, e.g. some people make New Year’s resolutions, and some spend the moments just before and after midnight on Dec 31 in meditation.

One question that arises in me as we approach 2023:  What is time?   How do I experience time?  When does time seem to speed up and when does it slow down?  How is it possible for the moments to drag and the years to fly by?  I remember watching a film about time in a high school physics class that totally blew my mind.  It demonstrated that time can actually move backward.  (Don’t ask me to explain.  Physics is the only class I ever dropped out of).

In Hebrew, the word for time is z’man זמן, which is the root of the word הזמנה ––  invitation.  
What is this moment, this hour, this day, week, month, year, inviting you to do / feel / express?

Secular time feels linear to me.  Jewish time is cyclical.  I am especially grateful for Shabbat, which AJ Heschel called a “Palace in Time.” [See elsewhere in this newsletter three Wednesday evening webinars organized by the Shalom Center in honor of Heschel’s 50th Yahrzeit this month].

Even though I do not currently observe Shabbat halachically, I always light Shabbat candles, with the kavanah (intention) to bring light and blessing into each day of the coming week. I don’t shop, I make an effort not to think about finances; I am aware of it being Shabbat from sundown on Friday ‘til the first stars appear in the night sky on Saturday.  It’s much easier to feel Shabbat in Israel, especially in Jerusalem or Tzfat (Safed), where every one slows down and a peaceful atmosphere reigns for 25 hours.  It takes more intention to create that atmospheric shift in Vermont (especially since it’s generally more peaceful in Vermont to begin with!), but it’s not impossible.

It was a joy being together with many of you for the eight nights of Chanukah this year, some in person, some via Zoom. I always feel sad when the last dancing flame in the Chanukah menorah dies out.  And I simultaneously feel tremendous gratitude for Shabbat, with the peace, warmth and light of the Shabbat candles every week.

I hope to see you on Friday evening, Jan 6, to welcome Shabbat and to welcome members of the cast of BUHS’s Fiddler on the Roof, which will be performed Feb 16-18. Please bring vegetarian food to share.

Rabbi Amita Jarmon   רב אמיתה


Joseph, Forgiveness, Light
December 23, 2022

On December 17th, we began the Joseph Novella, which unfolds over the course of four Torah portions, Genesis chapters 37 through 56.  The characters have greater psychological depth than those in any of the other Torah stories, and the plot is ingenious. Many of us first learned the Joseph story not through the Torah, but from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s telling of it in the musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”  

I recently listened to Stephen Mitchell’s brilliant, poetic Zen Midrash: Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: A Story About Letting Go, published in 2019. Mitchell points out the this is the only book in the entire Bible the teaches us how to forgive. Jesus, through the Gospels, speaks repeatedly about the importance of forgiveness, but does not actually teach us how to do it.  Joseph’s life is an inspiring example of how to cultivate forgiveness.  I highly recommend reading this, or listening to the author’s soothing voice on the audiobook.   

In Parasha VaYeishev, Joseph’s innocent self-centeredness, fed by his father’s loving and favoring him over all his other 11 brothers, naturally arouses his brothers’ jealousy.  When he, with clueless excitement, shares his dreams, their jealousy turns to rage and they toss him in a pit (in Hebrew, בור).  In the mystical understanding of Hebrew letters, aleph א represents God.  When an א replaces the letter vav, the בור becomes a באר, a wellspring for Joseph’s insight and transformation.  

God does not “appear” in the Joseph story.  God doesn’t speak to Joseph as he spoke with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But Joseph realizes while in the pit/well that his predicament is part of the Divine plan / the Great Way.  In Mitchell’s retelling, Joseph moves from shock and confusion, to being able to see himself through his brothers’ eyes.  He realizes how and why his words and actions affected them, even though there was no ill intent on his part. At first he feels terribly guilty and heartsick, deeply ashamed.  Then he is graced with the insight that it’s all part of the Divine Plan/Great Way. With this realization he is able to forgive himself and is infused with Peace.

The reading of the Joseph story always coincides with Chanukah.  In both our Torah text and our Solstice season holiday, there is a movement from darkness to light.  For Joseph, there is a back and forth from darkness to light.  It’s not a straight line. But because of Joseph’s high level of consciousness, even when his situation appears dark, he is able to zoom out and see the bigger picture and the greater Light. 

May we all feel and see the Light in ourselves and others during Chanukah.
May we remind others of their light and reflect it back to them when they have lost sight of it.
May we all develop Joseph’s ability to see the big picture and trust in the Great Way.


“Thanksgiving, Rosh Chodesh Kislev, Celebrating Cultures”

November 24, 2022

On Thanksgiving most residents of the US gather together with family and/or friends for a festive meal regardless of country of origin and regardless of religious tradition. Whether one is religious or an atheist, today is a day to pause and give thanks for whatever is good in our lives.  In recent years, dozens of books have been published about the benefits of gratitude and how to practice gratitude. 

Jewish tradition instructs us to give thanks each morning immediately upon waking.  The first thing we say is, “Modeh (masc) / Modah (fem) / Modet (non-gendered) Ani…”  “I give thanks before You… for compassionately returning my soul to me … how great is Your faith in me.”  I say this each morning in the same way I do it when leading services – bowing to the left giving thanks for the past, bowing to the right giving thanks for the future, and bowing to the center giving thanks for this moment.

Three times each day in the Amidah (standing prayer), the penultimate blessing begins: “Modim Anachnu Lach…”    “We give thanks before You…”  and ends with “…l’cha na’eh l’hodot,”  “It is good/pleasing to give thanks to You.”  This particular blessing has us give thanks for the miracles that we experience each evening, morning and afternoon.   

It is good to give thanks.  By saying these words, we are reminded of what we are grateful for, no matter how challenging our day has been, no matter what is not going well in our lives or in the world, even when we are ill or bereaved. 

This year, Thanksgiving coincides with Rosh Chodesh Kislev – the new moon of Kislev.  

As Mordecai Kaplan said, we Jews live in two civilizations.  This is true today, and it has always been true.  We live in Jewish civilization, and we also live in the “host” civilization.  In our case, that host is North America, which in itself is a mix of many cultures. In recent years, there is a growing awareness of our responsibility toward the descendants of the First Nations.  It is incumbent upon us to learn about the Abenaki, whose bodies and culture were almost completely wiped out by the Europeans who colonized Vermont in the early 18th century.  We might individually consider contributing to an organization that supports Abenkai or other Indigenous peoples.

Celebrating Thanksgiving, which may include acknowledging the complexities of this day, is a practice of the host civilization we live in.  Looking up and noticing that we cannot see the moon on a clear night when we do see stars, is a practice of Jewish civilization, as is singing a partial Hallel (selections from Psalms 113-118) the next morning. 

Last night, I joined a group of eight women rabbis in Israel via Zoom (for them it was already this morning), singing Hallel to celebrate Rosh Chodesh.  While I believe it is important for us to support the preservation of Indigenous cultures, I obviously also believe it’s important to preserve our own culture, which includes paying attention to the cycles of the moon.

Each month has its own energy.  My friend Mindy Ribner, a student of both Reb Zalman and Reb Shlomo, wrote Kabbalah Month by Month, 2002.  She has a great deal to say about each month.  Here is some of what she says about Kislev: 

“Kislev is about transcending what is logical, actualizing dreams and visions and going forward. Kislev is known as the month of miracles. During the month of Kislev, we become more aware of Divine synchronicity.

Kislev is a time of deepening faith and trust. Living with faith enables us to not be bound by the reasoning powers and limits of the mind. It is faith, not the mind, that opens us to new possibilities and new dimensions. It is faith that enables us to go forward in ways we could not do previously.

The month of Kislev is about learning to more fully trust in the Source of All Life. Kislev is about reclaiming the dreams of the inner child. Kislev is about taking risks to move forward to live more authentically and embody more of our soul potential. In Kislev, we are better able to access the guidance of our very own soul and live with greater confidence.”

Blessings for a day of Gratitude and Joy, Chodesh Tov, and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Amita  רב אמיתה