Temple Beth El News

Below is a selection of teasers for past TBE News posts.  Click on the title or "read more" to view the full news article.  Use the pager at the bottom to step backward in time.

From Rabbi Naomi - High Holy Days Message

Jewish life revolves around doing mitzvot.  Usually translated as commandments, my teacher Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, of blessed memory, referred to mitzvot as action directives. More than a thousand years ago, the great sage Saadia Gaon wrote The Book of Beliefs and Opinions in which he divided the many mitzvot into two groups: the ethical and the ritual.  Saadia wrote and spoke in Arabic, the lingua franca of his time (892-942) and place (the Academy of Sura in Babylonia).

In progressive Jewish communities today, we have the freedom and the responsibility to choose to do the mitzvot that call to us.  Which rituals are woven into the fabric of family and community life, and which ones do we take on for ourselves?  Which ethical action directives are moral imperatives for us?

We have many beautiful ritual and ethical mitzvot for the Yamim Noraim, the High Holy Days.  We study, pray, sing, greet one another kindly, make amends for any wrongdoing, and give tzedakah to alleviate suffering and redress injustice.

One mitzvah supersedes all others: pikuach nefesh, preservation of life.  Before Covid we came together in the conviviality of our synagogue to wish one another a good New Year, and support each other in our efforts to improve ourselves and our world. Life saving vaccinations are starting to turn the Covid tide, but the work is not yet complete; many among us are still at risk of serious illness or death. Also in this troubled time we see a steep rise in deadly attacks on Jews, other minorities, and even school children and teachers as easy access to military weapons takes its toll on our heart-broken country.

For decades we enjoyed welcoming visitors to our High Holy Day events at Temple Beth El, but this year, for pikuach nefesh, to preserve life, our events will be held at private, secure locations and open exclusively to the one hundred and forty Temple families and their guests.

Bezrat HaShem, with Divine Help, may we all be strengthened and inspired by tradition, motivated and invigorated by innovation, and face the coming year with gratitude and hope.

L’shanah tovah ~ Wishing you a good New Year,
Rabbi Naomi

From Rabbi Naomi - Pakistan Flooding

Three months of relentless rain In Pakistan has brought flooding of biblical dimensions.  Thirty-three million people have been displaced, over 1,000 killed, and ⅓ of the county is underwater.  The world must help.  Here are options for donations to bring immediate relief with food and medical care:
Responding to Monsoon Flooding in Pakistan | International Medical Corps

Experts explain that this torrential rain is in part the result of glacial melting and rising temperatures in the Indian Ocean, both caused by the climate crisis which is driven by heavily industrialized nations burning fossil fuels.

In addition to helping with immediate humanitarian aid, we must speed up our efforts to change our energy consumption. 

Please support and get involved with Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action and locally 350 Humboldt.


B’shalom ~ In peace,
Rabbi Naomi

From Rabbi Naomi - Dangerous Supreme Court Decisions on Religion

The following My Word commentary by Rabbi Naomi Steinberg and Rev. Molly Cate appeared in the September 4 edition of the Eureka Times-Standard:

As religious leaders, we are appalled by the recent Supreme Court decision allowing a high school football coach in Washington State to lead conspicuous, coercive group prayer sessions on the football field. As our Congressman Jared Huffman commented, a radicalized court “took a wrecking ball to the critical separation of church and state, and with it the legitimacy of the highest court in the land.” The majority ruling upheld the coach’s claim that he was only indulging in moments of quiet, personal prayer on the football field. The court ignored the facts: the coach had a long history of gathering players, fans, politicians and press for a spectacle of group prayer. An internet search for photos and videos of “football coach prayers” brings up images of dozens of students in uniform kneeling around the coach, often surrounded by people taking pictures.

What about the young athlete who doesn’t want to pray with the crowd around the coach? Can that teenager simply break out of the huddle and walk away without humiliation, fear of retaliation, stigma or even injury?

From Rabbi Naomi - Antisemitic Flyers in Humboldt County

As many of you have heard, this week antisemitic flyers were found in residential neighborhoods in Arcata, Scotia, Rio Dell, and at Temple Beth El and in the surrounding neighborhood.  Thankfully in all locales concerned residents notified the police and collected the offensive materials.  The incidents were reported to the Anti-Defamation League and I received a helpful letter from Nancy Appel, Assistant Regional Director of the ADL:

“ADL has been tracking the small and fringe network of individuals responsible for the flyers since its inception several years ago.  It is known for its public stunts in select states, such as antisemitic banner drops over major highways and coordinated propaganda distributions.  The group’s actions are designed to garner publicity, harass and troll Jews, spread communal fear, and project the false image the network is larger than its actual numbers.

The group does not have a known record of calling for or committing violence.  Regardless, we always encourage community members to file police reports so law enforcement agencies can investigate and document the activity.”

Ms. Appel has reached out to Arcata and Eureka Police Departments, Sheriff Honsul, DA Fleming, and the Board of Supervisors offering support and resources.

Our new Anti-Semitism Task Force met for the first time in May.  We are developing protocols for both responding to incidents and taking proactive measures to educate and inform the Jewish community and the community at large.  If you are interested in serving on this Task Force, please contact me.

I called Rabbi Eliyahu Cowan of Chabad to discuss the situation and invited him to attend our upcoming Task Force meeting. I expressed our deep concern for his safety.

This morning I spoke with news reporter Jackson Guilfoil of the Times-Standard.  I encouraged him not to quote the antisemitic messages on the flyers to avoid giving the perpetrators a platform for their offensive views. I am going to encourage the Task Force to write recommendations for local media.

Very supportive comments have been made by concerned neighbors on social media. Please express your gratitude if you read helpful comments online.  I’ll start working on a public letter of thanks.

Sadly, security issues will impact our reopening plans, but I’m confident that we’ll find a way to meet again in person with minimal risk to health and no risks to safety.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Naomi

Rabbi Naomi’s Shavuot Message - 2022

In troubled times we can turn to Jewish traditions for insight and inspiration. I want to share some thoughts in advance of this lovely holiday, drawing on teachings by three contemporary chochamot, wise women reading Ruth from a feminist perspective.

On Shavuot we read verses from Shemot, the Book of Exodus, describing Matan Torah, the Giving of Torah. It’s an epic scene with big special effects: The entire Israelite population is gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai which is covered by a thick cloud. All the people witness the thunder and lighting, and the sound of a Shofar (ram’s horn) that makes the mountain tremble! In this attention-grabbing setting, Moses climbs up the mountain and receives the stone tablets inscribed with the Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Sayings. The whole tale has an over-the-top (of the mountain) feel! The ethical and ritual rules of the Ten Sayings are delivered in the most dramatic and memorable circumstances. The scene has been etched into the Jewish imagination for nearly 3,000 years! 

But alongside this fiery tale, on Shavuot we also read a tender, domestic story: the Book of Ruth, an elegantly- crafted short novella revolving around the figures of Naomi from Bethlehem in Judah and her daughter-in-law Ruth, a native of neighboring Moab. How splendid to have a Biblical tale of such antiquity that centers on female characters!

In contrast to Mount Sinai’s issues of cosmic power and national identity, the theme of Ruth is love, especially as expressed in the Hebrew noun hesed, often translated as lovingkindness, the love-in-action. Just as we ask questions about the meaning of the texts, so did the rabbis long ago. Ruth Rabbah is a collection of Rabbinic midrashim (legends) that were composed sometime between the years 700 and 950 C.E. Rabbi Ze’eira points out that Migilat Ruth (the megillah/scroll of Ruth,) contains no discussions of purity or impurity, prohibitions or allowances. And so, he asks, “Why was it written?” And he answers: “To teach you how good is the reward for deeds of lovingkindness.” (Ruth Rabbah 2:14):

וְלָמָּה נִכְתְּבָה לְלַמֶּדְךָ כַּמָּה שָׂכָר טוֹב לְגוֹמְלֵי חֲסָדִים. 


Rabbi Naomi's Yom HaShoah Message 2022

Yom HaShoah - יום השואה  - is always challenging, and especially so this year as we see a steep rise in anti-Semitism and other forms of hate across the country and the world.  The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) recently began an historic partnership with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and here at Temple Beth El we have initiated an Anti-Semitism Task Force to develop and implement both reactive and proactive measures to address local problems and threats.  https://urj.org/what-we-do/social-justice/urj-adl-partnership  
It’s especially painful to acknowledge that Jews are not always the victims of terror but sometimes the perpetrators. This winter the URJ joined the ADL and other Jewish organization to take a strong stance against “ongoing terrorism and political violence committed by Jewish Israeli extremists in the West Bank against Palestinians, Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers.” https://www.timesofisrael.com/adl-other-jewish-groups-denounce-ongoing-terrorism-by-settler-e
In a happier world, the confluence of Passover, Ramadan and Easter would be a time of interfaith education and celebration, but this year we are seeing heightened tensions and tragic deaths of Israelis and Palestinians.  It was heartening to hear that President Biden will visit Israel in the coming months, reaffirming the United States' commitment to an equitable and secure two-state solution.  Biden accepts Israeli PM's invitation to visit Israel - Israel News - The Jerusalem Post
And as Yom HaShoah approaches, we witness the tragic escalation of brutal conflict and war crimes in Ukraine. The shocking photos of murdered civilians on the streets look like pictures from the Holocaust. We commonly translate shoah - שואה - as holocaust, from the Greek word holokaustos, meaning a ritual sacrifice that was "burnt whole." But the Hebrew word shoah simply means destruction.  

Rabbi Naomi’s Passover Message 2022

In the Book of Exodus we read the riveting story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt, complete with the ten deadly plagues that afflicted the Egyptians and the parting of the Red Sea. The people cross over to safety, Miriam leads them in celebratory dancing, and Moses leads them in singing, praising the Divine as a “man of war “ (ish ha-milchamah), a fierce Cosmic Protector. Then forty years go by, full of adventures. As the Israelites are about to enter the Land of Canaan and end their wandering, Moses gives lengthy orations reviewing communal history, ritual and ethical laws. We read:

Observe the month of Aviv [Spring] and offer a passover sacrifice to HaShem your God, for it was in the month of Aviv, at night, that HaShem your God freed you from Egypt. You shall slaughter the passover offering for HaShem your God, from the flock and the herd, in the place where HaShem will choose to establish the divine name. You shall not eat anything leavened with it. For seven days following you shall eat unleavened bread, bread of poverty—for you departed from the land of Egypt in haste—so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live. (Devarim 16:1-3)
כִּ֣י בְחִפָּז֗וֹן יָצָ֙אתָ֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם

After hundreds of years in Egypt, the swift departure was to be etched in collective memory. During the Pesach Seder we read from the Haggadah, “You shall tell your child on that day, saying, 'It is because of what HaShem did for me when I came out of Egypt.'" (Exodus 13:8) And we recite: “In every generation, a person is obligated to see him or herself as though s/he came forth from Egypt.” (Mishnah Pesachim 10:5) Part of the genius of the Torah text is that it sets the stage for thousands of years of ritualized participatory story-telling. 

A Passover Message from Rabbi Bob

Dear Friends –

We have entered the month of Nisan which will bring us, in a little more than one week, to our first seders.

I'd like to suggest a parallel here with the time leading from Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur.

That time also aligns with a new moon, Tishri, which begins the ten “Days of Awe,” during which we are encouraged to search ourselves for any and all evidence of ways in which we have wronged other people. When we do this search with deep intention, and when we approach those folks and ask their forgiveness and express our readiness to make amends, then we will be all the more ready to stand before HaShem on Yom Kippur itself, asking for another year of life.

That's six months from now – a full half revolution of the planet.

Here's the parallel: