Friends, Passover begins on March 27.
CSOA Zoom Seder March 28.
Friends, Passover begins on March 27.
CSOA Zoom Seder March 28.
Rabbi Brian’s Diary –
Here’s what I did in a 2-day period, February 22-24, 2021
People often ask me, “Rabbi Brian, what does a rabbi do all day?”
So I thought I would share most of my schedule for February 22 to 24:
New Year’s Resolutions?
Greetings, friends, and Happy New Year!
There has been much talk about how 2021 just HAS to be an improvement over 2020.
In many ways, that’s true.
On one hand, there are plenty of toilet paper and paper towels available.
On the other hand, all this time at home has motivated us to do more bathroom and kitchen remodelling.
On one hand, we have spent a lot of time on our own.
On the other hand, I have discovered many of the hiking and biking trails in our region.
On one hand, the vaccines are making their way to every corner of our country.
On the other hand, that’s not an excuse to stop wearing masks, washing our hands and staying away from other people.
On one hand, the economic stimulus payments are on the way to people.
On the other hand, the $600 will not go far for those of our friends who have lost their jobs, can’t buy all the groceries they need, and are facing eviction.
On one hand, Zoom has given us a method for staying together as a Jewish community of worshippers and learners.
On the other hand, our members tell me they miss hugging each other, schmoozing and sharing a nosh.
On one hand, we have been able to continue Friday and Saturday services each week, as well as Sunday School, Tot Shabbat and other events.
On the other hand, some of our members may not be able to join us if we resume in-person services later this year.
On one hand, I haven’t been able to see my new grandchild in Israel, or hug any of my children or grandchildren there or in Chicago.
On the other hand, the lovely Renana Friedman accepted my proposal of marriage on Grandad’s Bluff.
Fortunately for us Jews, our year of 5781 is only 3 months old.
We have plenty of time to check in, to see how we are doing, emotionally, spiritually, Jewishly.
Try not to make too many New Year’s resolutions.
25% of resolutions are forgotten after just two weeks.
If you do make resolutions, be sure to include how much you will love your family, how much you will stay in touch with your friends, and how well you will take care of your health.
Resolve to spend time learning about Judaism, meditation, prayer and finding your spiritual center.
I wish all of our members and friends a very happy, secure and healthy new year.
Norma Deborah Altman (Lebovitz) – Dvorah bat Leah v’Shmuel – passed away peacefully but reluctantly on December 25, 2020, at age 89.
What follows is Norma’s obituary written by herself.
Norma was born in Oak Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, on March 16, 1931 to Samuel and Lily (Contorer) Lebovitz.
Norma lived in Chicago, with the exception of a few years, until her marriage, when she and her husband moved in 1965 to La Crosse, where they spent the rest of their lives together.
She is survived by her husband Burton; sons James (Ellen Von Holtum), and Robert (Devi Segal) all of Minneapolis; a granddaughter Erin Altman of Chicago; and several nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents Lilian and Sam Lebovitz; mother- and father-in-law Hilda (Plavin) and Jack Altman; sister Phyllis Klapman and brother-in-law Aaron (Nunny) Klapman; sister-in-law Eleanor (Tudy) and brother-in-law Harry Polisky; and brother-in-law Irwin (Buddy) and sister-in-law Dorothy Altman.
Norma graduated from Austin High School (Chicago) where she met her future husband as members of the same freshman homeroom, and learned to admire, respect, and love him for the rest of their lives (even though he used to copy her math homework). She received her S.S. and M.S. degrees at Northwestern University and later attended post graduate courses at UW-L.
Norma taught school for 38 years, 24 of which were in La Crosse, mostly at Central High and Hamilton schools. She retired in 1990 to start a new career as a volunteer. She was a county volunteer guardian, a citizen advocate, a volunteer at the library, and the humane society, and a dedicated worker for Learning in Retirement and several other community organizations. She described her volunteer work as fun and something that kept her from nibbling on her beloved chocolates during the day and away from other sorts of mischief. She loved traveling which, including family trips and group trips planned by her husband, took her to six continents (she felt that if she lived a little longer she might have made it to all seven).
Although she always had a soft spot in her heart for Chicago, where she was raised, she learned to enjoy the life style and the many wonderful friends and good times she had in La Crosse.
Norma will be cremated, and a celebration of her life will take place on a yet to be determined date in 2021.
In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred to the Burt and Norma Altman Teacher Education Fund at UW-L, La Crosse Humane Society, or a donation of personal choice.
Online condolences may be sent to the family at www.dickinsonfuneralhomes.com.
Zichronah Livracha – May Norma’s memory be a blessing. זכרונו לברכה
Friends, as this challenging year comes to an end, we can only hope for a better year ahead.
This week’s Torah portion is Vayechi – “And Jacob lived”. Although that’s how the parsha begins, the parsha deals not with Jacob’s life, but his demise. This reminds us of another parsha, Chayei Sarah. Although it was called “the life of Sarah”, it really dealt with the end of her life.
Jacob takes gradual leave of his family in several stages. He gives instructions for his burial and provides spiritual directives for his descendants’ future. Jacob directs that he not be buried in Egypt, but rather back in Hebron, in the cave of Machpelah, where his ancestors are buried.
Jacob also delivers poetic, prophetic blessings for his children. We are reminded of the importance of the parental blessings, much as Isaac bestowed on Jacob, although that was through the deception of Jacob and Rebecca.
At this time last year, as I prepared to leave for my 4th trip to Israel in 40 years, I was on the edge of my chair with anticipation.
My oldest grandson was to become bar mitzvah a week later. My son’s family were living as olim, as recent immigrants, since the previous July in the big modern city of Beth Shemesh, near Jerusalem.
The bar mitzvah celebration stretched from dinner and music for 25 on Thursday night, to Kabbalat services on Friday night, followed by a sumptuous Shabbat dinner for family and friends, to a 4 hour long Shabbat morning service, culminating in my having an Aliyah to Torah, followed by a huge Kiddush luncheon, an afternoon to nap and recover from all the celebrating, followed by Shalosh Seudos – the traditional 3rd meal – followed by services and Havdalah. A veritable feast of food, spirituality, family and prayer.
On that Erev Shabbat, on that Friday evening, just like our forefather Jacob did in this week’s Torah portion, I bestowed my parental blessings on my son, then he in turn blessed each of his four children (now 5!). He gave the identical blessing that our forefather Jacob gives this week, in this Torah portion, to his grandsons Ephraim and Menashe.
“Yesimcha Elohim ke’Ephraim v’che’Menashe / Yesimech Elohim ke’Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, ve’Leah”
May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe /for daughters – May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah
I was approaching the end of my mourning period for my late mother, zichronah livracha – the 11 months of saying Kaddish which ended while I was in Israel. It was fitting that I said my very last Mourners’ Kaddish for my mother at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. It was also a challenge for me as I left this bimah for a long two weeks. Some of you jumped in to lead services and to lein Torah, to keep the doors open while I was gone. I missed being on the bimah for those two long weeks, and I am grateful to all of you.
This also marked a turning point in my rabbinical journey. I was your spiritual leader since the previous July, so I was just six months into my term. You asked me to continue this work for a few more years.
I have been greatly blessed in this calling, doubly blessed that I was able to study rabbinics and Jewish practices, then apply it immediately to our own congregation.
I am so grateful that all of you came on this journey along with me as I realized my life’s dream of becoming a rabbi.
I now want to share with you my rabbinical blessing for all of you:
Yevarechecha Ad-nai veyishmerecha
May G-d bless you and keep you.
Ya’er Ad-nai panav eilecha vichuneka
May G-d shine His light on you and be gracious to you.
Yisa Ad0nai panav eilecha veyasem lecha shalom
May G-d turn his face toward you and grant you peace.
Greetings, friends! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, despite the fact that we were not able to share it with our usual guests. I am grateful for the hospitality you have showed my fiancee Renana Friedman. She has enjoyed getting to know our members.
Perhaps it’s due to pandemic – or just the normal life of a Coulee Region rabbi – but I get some very interesting phone calls and e-mails just about every week. In the past week, a Christian caller asked how the Jewish community has been faring during the past 9 months, she is praying for us. I told her to pray for and when we felt things would get better. I responded that Judaism has survived over 3,000 years of challenges, yet continues to thrive. Jews are realists, but also optimists, I told her. I also said our faith in G-d is strengthened the more we are faced with. She said she will continue to pray for us, and for all our society.
Last week, another correspondent posed a question which would make anyone think. Here is how it went:
Writer: Hi Rabbi Brian, tell me, Why is it so important to love God?
Rabbi Brian answers: _______, thanks for asking. This is a question whose answer could fill many books, and it already has!
But I guess you just want the short answer? You asked a short question, so I will try to answer it briefly. Much of Jewish law – mitzvot – and many rabbis and Torah commentators focus on the importance of emulating G-d. Not becoming G-d, but rather reaching for higher aspirations, for higher levels of behavior.
If we are to become “like G-d”, what does that mean? We are given examples…G-d loves animals, so it is a Torah mitzvah to treat animals well, to take care of injured animals, lost animals, suffering animals etc. (Tzar baalei chayim)
We are told many times that G-d loves us, we are G-d’s people.
That love is reciprocal…we love G-d, and G-d loves us.
I am not so sure that G-d needs our love, but I know for sure that we need to be loved, by G-d and by each other.
Judaism does not have a corner on G-d’s love…G-d loves ALL humans. Judaism just gives us a method of expressing it…
G-d’s love is expressed in Torah and in Jewish prayer, especially in the Shema. In the Shema and its accompanying paragraphs, we are told to “love the Lord your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul and all your might”. We are also told how to show that love, by teaching these words to our children, to say the words (at least) twice each day, to wear them in our tefillin that we put on our arms and heads, and to put them in the mezuzot on our doorposts.
In exchange for that love, says the Shema’s second paragraph, G-d will provide sustenance and success for ourselves and our families. It also says we must not worship false gods. If we do, we will suffer loss of that sustenance.
We acknowledge that this ONE G-D is the same being who brought the Israelites out of slavery to freedom.
The prayer ends, “I am Adonai your G-d, who is Truth.”
I hope that answers your question.
____, I would like to know YOUR answer…as a Jew, why is it important for YOU to love G-d?
Writer: Rabbi Brian, I am looking to find the answer to what is in it for me I’m loving God. And I think you answered it: we are to love God because in exchange for that love, says the Shema’s second paragraph, G-d will provide sustenance and success for ourselves and our families. That is a pretty good deal.
…Ok. I want to love God with all my heart, souls and mind. How can I go about making myself love God?
Rabbi Brian: Hmmm, Before you asked “why”, now you want to know “how”? This is a very interesting question. It is what may have caused many to break away from Judaism 2000 years ago.
Judaism has always taught that it is not enough to just believe in G-d. Jewish law says you must perform as many of the laws – the mitzvot given in the Torah – as much as possible.
So, Jews are required not only to believe, but also to DO. In earlier times, this meant following all the laws of eating Kosher foods, and keeping a Kosher home. It meant observing the Sabbath. Some are laws we cannot follow today, like bringing sacrifices to Jerusalem, of course.
But so many other laws can be followed to some degree today.
Judaism requires action, not just words of love or words of belief.
These actions are called mitzvot, commandments which are also often translated as “good deeds.” More than commandments, these obligate us to do such things as helping immigrants, feeding the poor, helping orphans and widows. Loving your neighbor, not just love, but through your actions. Loving peace and pursuing peace.
And yes, following as much of Jewish law as you can comfortably live with.
I am doing what I can to help others, I told the writer. I get calls for help every week. People who are ill, lonely, depressed, unemployed. People who want prayers for their own healing or for their friends or relatives.
Judaism is a community religion. It is very hard to practice it alone at home. People miss seeing each other and hugging each other every week.
For 8 months, I have conducted services on Zoom, funerals on zoom, baby namings on Zoom, trying to keep the rituals and holidays going, and keeping us together as a community.
To answer your second question, there is no better way to show your love for G-d than by helping others, through acts of charity, feeding them, clothing them, finding them shelter, loving them.
I hope that helps.
Writer: So, how do I feel love for G-d, and how do I know that G-d loves me?
Rabbi Brian: This last question is the most difficult. I don’t know anything about your feelings for anything, let alone for G-d. I don’t know what interests you or motivates you. Perhaps this is a subject for future discussion, not long e-mails.
I can only tell you about my own feelings.
Whenever I experience joy in my life, or a degree of happiness, or a positive outcome, or a simcha or other happy event, I associate those feelings with G-d and with connections to the Divine.
For me, the feeling of being in love is certainly one of those holy feelings.
When I help others, the warmth and connection I get from others is the same.
For example, before the pandemic, I volunteered a number of times at a nursing home in Saint Paul. We often took the residents on field trips, to the Mall of America, to arboretums, to the zoo. They were so happy to be outdoors and so grateful for the help.
I have never been so happy as seeing the looks on their faces. It always brought me such great joy. I felt the payback was immediate. To paraphrase Ya’kov in this week’s Torah portion, G-d was present in that place.
Helping build homes at Habitat for Humanity gave me the same feelings.
Also, I have put on tallit and tefillin almost every morning for the past 25 years. Over the past 8 months, I have been praying each morning with a group of 20-30 people in a Zoom service.
That is also a terrific and holy feeling every single morning for me. I feel G-d’s love in those moments.
You may want to determine what makes you happy first, and go from there! Only you can determine that.
Writer: Thank you, Rabbi Brian. I appreciate all your responses. The best answer I have found out is to ask God Himself to help me love Him, because I can’t do it myself. I can only be willing.
Friends, this kind of conversation is what makes me love my work as a rabbi, and keeps me going.
I hope you have all have a blessed week, as we move into Kislev and the month of the Holiday of Lights.
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