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Loss, Compassion, and Rememberance

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“Holy One, full of compassion, grant perfect rest under the wings of the Shechinah, the Divine Presence...”

These beautiful words begin El Malei Rachamim, the prayer we recite at burials and memorials. Some versions use the phrase “upon the wings of the Shechinah,” an image of liberation, the soul being carried aloft. But I first learned and still prefer “under the wings”, evoking a sense of safety and nurturance.
We read at MyJewishLearning.com (a wonderful site): “In some Ashkenazi synagogues, El Malei Rachamim is also a part of the Yizkor memorial service on Yom Kippur and on the last days of the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot). The prayer originated in the Jewish communities of Western and Eastern Europe, where it was recited for the martyrs of the Crusades and of the Chmielnicki massacres.”
As we mark the loss of half a million Americans to Covid-19, we meditate on the fragility and brevity of life. Blessedly, the Temple Beth El community has lost only one member to the pandemic, our dear nonagenarian Bob Berman, who died last spring. We will remember him at upcoming Yizkor services (April 4 and May 18) and on his first yartzeit, 25th of Iyar, May 6-7.


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ר תָלִֶּׁ֨ינִּי֙ אָלִִּ֔ין עַמֵׁ֣ךְ עַמִִּ֔י וֵאלֹהֵַ֖יִּךְ אֱלֹהָָֽי׃

But Ruth replied, Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16)

With these poignant words, the Biblical heroine Ruth pledges her loyalty and love to her mother-in-law Naomi. The scene takes place in the ancient country of Moab, east of Judah. Naomi and her husband had traveled there to escape famine along with their two sons who marry Moabite women. Naomis men-folk have died and she tells her daughters-in-law to return to their own people. Orpah sadly does so, but Ruth refuses and joins her destiny with Naomi. Together they travel to Judah, where Ruth makes an auspicious marriage to Naomis kinsman Boaz. Ruth gives birth to Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David who becomes king, David HaMelech.

This beautiful story makes clear that those who choose to join the Hebrew tribe are to be welcomed and honored, like our mythic ancestress Ruth.

From the Rabbi: Harris & Emhoff Chanukah Message

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I was delighted to see the video of our Vice-President Elect and her husband offering a Chanukah message. I was struck by their warmth, and also by their interpretation of the festival's meaning. I was pleased that they avoided the oversimplifications and historical inaccuracies often heard in public remarks about Chanukah, and instead shared what the holiday means to them. You might want to watch it now and then read the rest of my note:

Chanukah Message - 2020

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Do not separate yourself from the community.”  אַל תִּפְרֹשׁ מִן הַצִּבּוּר - Al tifrosh min ha-tsibur - Pirkey Avot 2:14

This has become my mantra throughout the pandemic. As we separate ourselves physically, it’s more and more important to connect virtually, emotionally and spiritually.  Todah rabah (abundant thanks) to the many TBE members and guests who frequent our Zoom services, classes, cultural events and social gatherings.  And a heartsiken dank (heartfelt thanks) to everyone who has filled my signups for Zoom visits and lessons.  I wasn’t so sure about video meetings at first.  I like to limit my own screen time and save my eyesight for taking in the natural world in all its beauty and dazzling complexity.  But I’ve seen the digitized light!  If you haven’t yet met with me via Zoom, please sign up to do so.  You don’t need to have any urgent issues or questions to discuss (though those are welcome), just visiting is lovely.