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Panim El Panim: Face to Face with Loneliness | Yom Kippur 5781 Sermon

Rabbi Allison Berry

This April, after a beloved temple member died of Covid-19, I joined his family at the cemetery to say goodbye. Each of the mourners, myself included, wore a mask. We stood six feet apart, and we approached the grave only after the casket had been fully covered with earth. As the service ended, the widow did something that a few weeks earlier would have been the most natural thing in the world - she walked over to me with arms outstretched to give me a hug. I panicked. And...in an effort to maintain our physical distance, I took a step back. Within seconds my heels were sinking into the ground. I looked down and to my horror discovered I was standing on top of the grave.

As I worked to liberate myself from my predicament, I could no longer pretend everything was normal and ok. I’d given her words but what she needed was simple human touch, and that I could not safely give. As she walked away, I knew she was going home to an empty house and my heart broke for her.

Covid-19 has created whole new levels of loneliness for all of us. Vivek Murthy, former surgeon general, and physician Alice Chen writing together in the Atlantic share: “this pandemic could [and I would argue already has] triggered...a social recession - a fraying of social bonds that further unravel the longer we go without human interaction.”[1]

I know what they mean. The depths of this “social recession” is not only apparent at funerals. Over the past six months, I have seen and felt your loneliness during every phone call, every masked conversation and every Zoom meeting I attend.

In Dr. Murthy’s new book, Together released just a month ago, he beautifully defines the concept of loneliness: “[It] is the subjective feeling that you’re lacking the social connections you need. It can feel like being stranded, abandoned or cut off from the people with whom you belong - even if you’re surrounded by other people.”[2]

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s actually what’s happening around us every day.

This is my neighborhood. I live down the street. This playground used to buzz every morning when our kids arrived at school.

In this photo is Cabot Park Village - one of Newton’s senior residences - it’s just a few blocks away from the school. The seniors who live here, some of whom are Temple Shalom members, used to eat together and spend warm summer days outside.

But in March everything changed. My kids, and yours were sent home from school. Now their classes take place mostly on Zoom. They don’t have playdates or participate in sports. The seniors at Cabot Park Village have been alone in their rooms for months. They eat meals by themselves and watch through their windows as summer turns to fall.

And it’s not just our youngest children and our oldest adults who have been impacted by the loneliness of this moment. There is the friend who is newly divorced, the neighbor who spends days without speaking to a soul, the sisters who live 1000 miles apart and don’t know when they’ll see each other again. The married couple suddenly together more than they’ve ever been, who realize they no longer fit. There are the working parents like me, who already hold themselves to impossible standards and now must also be teacher, caregiver, house-keeper, and often partner 24/7 with no break in sight.

Today, one in three of us feel lonely.[3] Yet we are conditioned to believe that if this is our experience then something must be wrong with us. We feel ashamed, and then we try to hide our shame, which only exacerbates our self-doubt and makes us think we are unworthy of friendship or love.

But our tradition wants us to know that we ARE worthy; friendship and partnership are core Jewish values. From the very first lines of Genesis, we learn God wants us to seek out human connection and love:

God created the earth and the sea, and called them good - tov. God created day and night and called them tov. In fact, all of God’s creations were tov. Until God created Adam and said:

וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהִ֔ים לֹא־ט֛וֹב הֱי֥וֹת הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְבַדּ֑וֹ

Lo Tov - it is NOT GOOD - that Adam is alone.[4]

It is then God creates Chava - Eve. God’s creation is not complete without the challenge and wonder of being in relationship - panim el panim - face to face - with another human being.

Today I miss seeing your faces. And I know you miss seeing the faces of friends and family who can’t be with you. It is so unfair that there are people in our lives we cannot touch, people who mean so much to us.

But on this Yom Kippur and all the days that lie ahead - I believe we have the innate skills to combat this loneliness. We have the power to fight back.

First, we must accept what cannot be changed. That divorce is final, our loved one has died and is not coming back, we will never reconcile with the friend who did something so unthinkable, and until there is a vaccine, coronavirus is here to stay. When we struggle against pain that is truly immutable we exacerbate our loneliness. Instead, and this is hard work - we need to try to reframe our challenges, identify and then alter what we know can be changed.[5]

One way to begin this reframing is to agree right now: there is no more hiding in plain sight. If you are lonely, please tell a friend, a partner or even your medical professional. You are not deficient. You are eminently worthy of friendship and love. It is not only ok to ask for help, it is imperative. The Talmud teaches, “a captive cannot release himself from prison.”[6] So too, we cannot cure our own loneliness.

When we own our loneliness and ask for help we take a step towards changing not just our present but our future. Murthy and Chen suggest four strategies that have the potential to alleviate some of our loneliness; yes even in the middle of a pandemic:[7]

  1. “Spend 15 minutes each day communicating with [the] people you love.” 15 minutes is realistic. You can do that!
  2. “Make the time you spend with people distraction-free. Be fully present. On video chats - look at people directly. The quality of our interactions matter most.”
  3.  “Practice solitude. Work on being comfortable in your own company. Feel [your] complex feelings,” and give yourself permission to [be in the moment].


And:

  1. “Reach out and help others. When we serve we build connections and also remind ourselves that we have value to add to the world.”
     

I would also add a fifth suggestion with a Jewish spin:

On Yom Kippur we open our hearts and examine our thoughts and actions. Today the power of teshuvah is most manifest. Teshuvah is not only translated to mean “repentance,” it also means “return.” On this day, when the gates of repentance are open - we can return to those challenging relationships and circumstances, some of the reasons we feel so alone, and honestly ask ourselves: What is really holding me back? If I no longer speak with my brother or sister, parent or friend, did they abandon me or was I the one to turn away? Did I fail to show up when others needed me?

In the Jewish community Covid-19 has sparked a conversation about our values and what we owe one another. Again, we can find guidance in the book of Genesis when we read about Cain’s murder of Abel.[8] Picture the scene: Abel, dead by his brother’s hand, lays sightless on the ground. God’s anguish: “Cain - what have you done? Your brother’s blood is crying out.” We cringe at Cain’s irreverent response, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Embedded in this ancient story is Judaism’s most fundamental teaching about what it means to be human: We are put on earth to hear and see and feel the cries of our brothers and sisters, to be each other’s keeper and hold one another. Right now, we wear masks, but this means we just need to work harder to uncover the faces underneath them. And we need to open our hearts to the suffering of people who feel forgotten by our government and our country. To make sure no one has to endure the loneliness, the hate and the pain that is all too often manifest in this world. This is Judaism’s call.

And our Temple community has answered bravely. I want to personally thank the volunteers, first- our amazing caring community --for all you have done in the past six months and what you continue to do to make sure no one is in need, alone or isolated. And beyond our caring community, many of you are creating new ways for us to love and support one another, even when we can’t be together in person.  

Anyone who has attended a digital bris or baby naming knows what I mean. I’ve had the chance this spring and summer to officiate at a few of these celebrations on Zoom - not too close to the “action,” but meaningfully present nonetheless. Despite physical distancing, and time zones, and against so many other odds, we can still see each other’s faces. We can laugh and we can cry, all of us fully present, panim el zoom.

By showing up - we declare ourselves. Despite the isolation and separation that marks this social recession, we ensure no one has to experience the sting of loneliness at the most joyous of moments or on the saddest of days.

The story is told of a man who wandered in the forest alone. After several hours, he summoned up his courage and finally cried out for help. Just around the bend, he saw a woman standing under the trees. As he approached her the man called, “I am lost in the depths of the forest, please help me find my way out.” The woman responded, “Friend, I do not know the way out either. For I, too, have been wandering. But what I do know is this - the way from which I came, leads nowhere. So let us join hands, and find our way out together.”[9]

On this Yom Kippur, the start of a New Year, 5781, we may not know the way out of the wilderness, and we cannot go back in time, but we can meet one another in the here and now, and find strength together in the darkness. In so many ways we have already joined hands. But more of us need to do it and with deeper intention. We must use this adversity to strengthen the relationships in our lives. If we do, we will emerge stronger than before. And then, when our masks at last are lowered, and we are once again panim el panim, we will know we are on the right path, a better path, and we will find nechama, נֶחָמָה, comfort in the dawning of a new day[10].

Watch Rabbi Berry deliver her sermon on Yom Kippur morning:


[1] Murthy and Chen, “The Coronavirus Could Cause a Social Recession,” The Atlantic Magazine, March, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/america-faces-social-recession/608548/

[2] Murthy, Vivek. Together, Harper Wave Publishing, April 2020. p. 8.

[4] Genesis 1:1-31, 2:18.

[5] Some of the ideas in this paragraph were inspired by: Legge, David. “Preach the Word.” https://www.preachtheword.com/sermon/misc0053-loneliness.shtml

[6] Talmud, Berachot 5a

[7] All quotes in the 4 bullet points from:Murthy and Chen, “The Coronavirus Could Cause a Social Recession,” The Atlantic Magazine, March, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/america-faces-social-recession/608548/

[8] Genesis 4:1-10

[9] Hasidic Parable, probably from the oral tradition, relayed in Yiddish by S.Y. Agnon in his book, Days of Awe. I created my own version of Agnon’s retelling based on a retelling by Rabbi Marc Katz in his Eli Talk, 2014: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acL83rTINMU

[10] Special thanks to my coach, Michele Lowe. Her careful edits and wisdom make anything I write better!

Finding Salvation in the Chaos | Rosh Hashanah 5781 Sermon

Rabbi Laura Abrasley

In the early morning hours of April 18th, 1906, the city of San Francisco was struck by a major earthquake. And in the aftermath, a perfect storm of broken gas lines and damaged chimneys produced fires that threatened to destroy the city and everyone in it.

But if you ask the citizens of San Francisco it was the fires that saved them. At least that was the case for Anna Amelia Holshouser. She and her friends dragged working stoves from damaged buildings to create makeshift kitchens and shelters that fed thousands of displaced people. These outdoor community kitchens became places where neighbors could stave off hunger and feed one another spiritually and emotionally.[1] 

When I read this story in Rebecca Solnit’s extraordinary book A Paradise Built in Hell, it felt familiar and hopeful. It reminded me that sometimes the upending of normal as we know it can lead us to a new path of possibility.  

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish New Year, opening day of our season of return, renewal, and reflection. Around the world, Jewish communities are commanded to gather, and fill our sacred spaces with people, with purpose, with prayer. 

If I close my eyes this morning, I can see your beautiful faces as you smile and greet one another, hear your laughter and conversations bouncing off the stained-glass windows. I recognize the college kids home for the holiday. I giggle at the almost adolescents itching in their “good clothes.” I watch our multi-generational families scout out their regular seats and our cornerstone members hug one another.

If you listen carefully, perhaps you can imagine it too:

Shanah Tovah! Happy New Year! How was your summer? 

Your son has really grown-up. I remember when he was so little.

I heard you moved. I hope you’re still here in Newton. 

Thank you for asking. My mom is recovering. We are lucky and grateful.

But this year, you are not here. We must be apart in order to keep one another safe. Our lives depend on it.

Six months ago, the fires of a global pandemic changed everything. And we know in our heart of hearts that the foundational Jewish value of Pikuah Nefesh, saving one life in order to save the world, is the only thing that matters as we fight off a fire we never imagined would ravage our world for so long. 

We wear masks. Wash our hands. Negotiate social distance. Manage an ever- changing set of guidelines, mourn losses that could have, should have, been mitigated.   

We crave our old routines. And some days we just want to crawl under the covers and give in to the darkness.

But somewhere deep inside of me there is a spark, one that I know lives in all of you. That spark can save us. It is found in the most unlikely of places, in the rubble of our disaster, in the chaos that changed our life.

So perhaps today we too can look to the fire, in the form of light, from the story that begins the Jewish story. 

Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim v’et ha’aretz … 

In a beginning, God created heaven and earth[2]

The story of creation is a familiar one. We may need to reach back into our religious school memory banks, but I feel certain each of you could recall the basics. God creates the world in six days, on the first day bringing forth light from darkness. God creates our world with words, puts order into our universe, brings forth life – plants, animals, humans. And on the seventh day, Shabbat, God rests.

The text continues: 

V’ha’aretz ha’yitah tohu v’vohu 

All the earth was chaos

v’chosech al p’nai t’hom 

with darkness over the surface of the deep

v’ruach Elohim merachefet al p’nai ha’mayim 

and a wind from God sweeping over the water[3].

Now, it might strike you as strange but the words that give me the most hope and keep my cautious optimism running just a little bit ahead of my utter despair, are “tohu v’vohu”, which I translate as chaos. 

I believe that chaos will be our salvation.

So, before you hit pause, thinking that the rabbi has clearly lost her mind, hear me out. 

Listen to what God brings forth from the chaos. 

Va’yomer Elohim yihi or va’y’hi or.

God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light.[4]

The creation story teaches, utopia is born from an unexpected place, in “tohu v’vohu.” From chaos.

Solnit’s stories of catastrophe reflect this unanticipated brightness. When the world as we know it is disrupted, disaster can be the great equalizer. When we all live the same reality, even for a limited time, it can suspend our preconceived notions of class, race and privilege. It can break us down to our most basic selves, which in truth might reflect our best selves, a default humanity setting worthy of the Garden of Eden, a version of humans we should aspire to everyday.  Solnit reminds us, “Human beings reset themselves to something altruistic, communitarian, resourceful, and imaginative after a disaster, … we revert to something we already know how to do.”[5] 

And what does Temple Shalom know how to do? We know how to feed people. Temple Shalom’s commitment to ending food insecurity is legendary. We are the inheritors of a long list of social action programs created to fight off hunger. We lead the way in donations every High Holidays to the Newton Food Pantry. And this past spring we engineered a very creative Front Porch Food Drive for Family Table. 

Hunger in Newton is not new. One in 8 Newton families live at or below the poverty line. The Newton Food Pantry, one of three pantries in our city, feeds close to 900 Newtonites a month, a number that continues to increase. During Covid-19, over 370 new households have sought help in the midst of this ongoing health and economic crisis.[6]

And as we settle in for winter, food insecurity is only going to increase across our community.

So, I find myself wondering, is there more that we can do?

Of course, the answer is yes. And I have an idea, one I hope we can consider implementing.

The idea is straightforward. Simple elegance. We create a community refrigerator.

We put a refrigerator in our neighborhood and fill it with food. Good food. Food you would buy in a grocery store. Fresh produce, eggs, dairy, bread, meat. 

This kind of fridge has popped up in several cities in recent months: New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia. The movement is growing, but the effort remains local and the fridges independent. Neighbors helping neighbors. Nothing more. Nothing less. 

The community fridge represents mutual aid in one of its purest forms. The idea that solidarity, not charity, is what communities need in order to become fairer and stronger.[7] It’s a hyper-local effort to restore independence to community members who are having a difficult time making ends meet. Neighbors take what they need and leave what they don’t. Other neighbors keep the fridge clean and stocked. Sometimes, neighbors take raw items, cook them, and return prepared dishes to the shelves to share. 

So, what do you think? Could we put a community refrigerator on the corner of Temple and Myrtle? Could we come together safely and provide good food for individuals that need a little extra? Could we expand our commitment to fight against food insecurity here in Newton, reconnect with one another over shared purpose, and restore dignity to our neighbors? 

I believe the answer is yes. If you believe the answer is yes, please join me at a digital meeting on Tuesday evening, October 13th at 7:00 p.m. We will learn together and consider the next steps needed to bring a resource like the community fridge to Newton. More details to come.

Many of the citizens of San Francisco, the ones who came together to save their city with makeshift shelters and cafes were ordinary people. They overcame their fear and grief to look out for one another. In doing so, they glimpsed a new way of living in the world, one where “strangers become friends and collaborators, goods are shared freely, [average] people improvise new roles.”[8] 

We learn from Rebecca Solnit that Anna Amelia Holshouser was one of these people. Her spontaneous generosity represented an ordinary response, one that rises out of our community every day. Her ramshackle cafe defended against hunger, isolation and disconnection. In the midst of the darkness that followed the earthquake, she found her fire, and used it to light the way forward to a better day. 

Her light in the darkness was aptly named. Her patrons coined her cafe The Mizpah Cafe.[9] Not Mitzvah. But MizPAH.

The Hebrew noun mizpah means watchtower. In the ancient world, the watchtower was a sign of strength and security, a place to gather and care for one another in challenging times. 

Since our founding, Temple Shalom aspires to be such a place, a mizpah, a watchtower in Newton.

Let us share our abundance, our generosity, our empathy. 

Let us feed our neighbors with food and our souls with love. 

A paradise of possibility is so close if we build it together. I can see it. Can you?
 


Watch Rabbi Abrasley deliver her sermon on Rosh Hashanah morning:

 

 

[1] A Paradise Built in Hell. Rebecca Solnit. pg. 14.

[2] Genesis 1:1

[3] Genesis 1:2

[4] Genesis 1:3

[5] Solnit. pg. 18

[6] www.newtonfoodpantry.org

[7] There are many articles covering this resource including two that I relied upon for information as I wrote this sermon: https://ny.curbed.com/2020/5/29/21274491/community-fridges-nyc-brooklyn-covid-19 and https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/08/nyregion/free-food-fridge-nyc.html

[8] Solnit. pg. 17

[9] ibid

High Holy Day Greeting

Temple Shalom Board of Trustees

Dear members,

A warm welcome to our High Holy Days. While we are in the midst of a new type of high holiday season, we are so fortunate that we can still come together as a community to celebrate the New Year.

We are blessed by dedicated clergy who have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic to support our congregation. We are just as fortunate to have such a committed and caring community. Many of you have been lifted...Read more...

Important High Holy Day Information

Shalom! 
We are excitedly anticipating the High Holy Days and look forward to being together as a community despite our need to be virtual.  This letter contains valuable information about accessing services online as well as prayer book borrowing, the annual food drive, and more. 

High Holy Day Access
This year, our High Holy Days services will be viewed on live stream similar to Friday night Shabbat...Read more...

Book of Memory | Remembering Our Loved Ones

Dear {{first_name}},

This year, Temple Shalom is continuing our sacred tradition of honoring and remembering our loved ones in a Yom Kippur Book Read more...

A Message To Parents About Schooling

August 3, 2020 Dear {{first_name}},Our critical job as parents is to ensure our children are safe, happy, and engaged in meaningful learning. NonRead more...

Your High Holy Days Guide | 2020/5781

With the month of Elul just a few weeks away, we are excited to update you on our plans for the High Holy Days 5781. While these holidays will certainRead more...

Across 3000 Miles: Celebrating a Bi-Coastal B’not Zoom Mitzvah

Cantor Leah Shafrtiz

Over the past few months, in the midst of the pandemic, Rabbi Berry, Rabbi Abrasley, and I have been blessed to call five of Temple Shalom’s young people to the Torah as Bar and Bat Mitzvah. While this milestone moment in these family’s lives is currently not able to happen in our sanctuary, we have reimagined the experience over Zoom, with each student and family designing their virtual “Zoom Mitzvah” in a way that is...Read more...

We Are Temple Shalom: Make Your Annual Membership Commitment

This year has been like no other. Looking back to September, we were dedicating our beautifully renovated sacred space, and feeling the energy and excitement of our flourishing Temple Shalom community. The last few months have felt very different, as we’ve navigated the isolation and uncertainty that comes with a global pandemic. Read more...

Bat Mitzvah in the Time of Corona

Elizabeth and Keith Newstadt

Our daughter Miranda became a Bat Mitzvah in June of 2020. It wasn’t at all what we had expected, but it was wonderful.

We had imagined an event much like our older daughter Amelia’s Bat Mitzvah two years earlier. The service would be in the newly renovated sanctuary, surrounded by our clergy, family, and friends, both local and traveling across the country, followed by a party in the social hall, with the...Read more...

Tales from a “Zoom Mitzvah” Stage Manager

Ellie Goldman

In the weeks leading up to our first Zoom Mitzvah at Temple Shalom of Newton, I did not sleep well.  I was a ball of nerves.  Why, you ask? Am I the mother of the Bar Mitzvah?  The Rabbi?  The Cantor?  Nope.  I’m the virtual stage manager and I wouldn’t even be seen on camera.  

My role is to make sure the Zoom links work, the participants are unmuted (and muted!) at the...Read more...

High Holy Days 2020 Announcement

June 10, 2020
Dear Temple Shalom Community,

The last few months have been challenging for all of us.  Yet, in this time of quarantine and unrest Read more...

Nature Camp Closing

June 2, 2020

Dear Nature Camp Families,

We hope you are well and we thank you for your ongoing patience regarding our plans for Nature Explorer CRead more...

A Message from Our Clergy | Addressing Racism and Injustice

June 2, 2020
Dear Temple Shalom Community,

It was with great sadness that we have watched the events of the last week unfold, both here in Boston Read more...

Important Message Regarding Our Building and Program Plans - May 22, 2020

Dear Members of our Temple Shalom family,

In these times of deep challenge we continue to be grateful for our strong community and the ways we are caring for one another. With the Governor’s announcement on Monday that religious organizations are allowed to physically reopen, our congregation is now faced with difficult decisions about how best to serve the needs of our community, understanding that health and safety are always our...Read more...

Zooming Our Way Through Seder 2020: Renee’s Guide to Finding Our Way From Lockdown To Liberation

Renee Brant

SEDER means order.  Every year we are commanded to re-tell our story of liberation from Egypt (Mitzrayim, meaning place of constriction) as if we are living it now.  We are instructed to tell the story in an orderly fashion, to create a transient experience of order in our disordered world.  
 

We endured a lot of obstacles and challenges back in the day: Pharaoh; slavery;...Read more...

Passover: Memories, Loss, and Renewal | D'var Torah - April 3, 2020

Rabbi Laura Abrasley

My childhood seders took place at Harry and Ellen’s house, my maternal grandparents. The evening was loud, long, and delicious. I remember bits and pieces. Harry speed-reading from the Haggadah, a beautiful long table in the formal dining room overflowing with people, and more food than we could possibly eat. Over the years one faded memory stands out.

I’m not sure how old I was, maybe 10 or 11. Old enough to stay awake as guests...Read more...

Holding Each Other Close | D'var Torah - March 27, 2020

Rabbi Allison Berry

“Amar Rabbi Yitzchak...Rabbi Yitzchak taught in a Midrash (Midrash Rabbah Bereshit 39:1): There was once a man who travelled from place to place. As he made his way, he saw a castle with flames coming from many of the windows. The man said to himself: ‘How is it possible that this castle is ablaze and no one has come to extinguish the fire? Does this castle not have an owner who looks after it?’ Upon hearing these words, the owner of...Read more...

Resilience in Judaism| D'var Torah - March 20, 2020

Rabbi Laura Abrasley

It’s been a rough week in the world. I’ve been trying to take things day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. And until yesterday, I was mostly managing. Maybe some of you were managing too. But yesterday afternoon, after a week of riding a roller coaster of emotions, after a week of being bombarded by the reality of human fragility and...Read more...

We Journey With You | D'var Torah - March 13, 2020

Rabbi Abrasley and Rabbi Berry

Shabbat Shalom. Tonight we are gathered virtually to celebrate Shabbat. Our gorgeous sanctuary, so lovingly imagined and built by the remarkable community that is Temple Shalom, is empty except for us, your clergy team. 

In case you are wondering, yes, it does feel surreal to be here without you. We miss your smiling faces, your beautiful voices, and your warm hearts that usually join us each week in prayer and community. We so...Read more...

COVID-19 Plans and Precautions | March 12, 2020

Elllie Goldman

Dear Temple Shalom Families,

One of our most important and cherished Jewish values is the concept of pikuach nefesh. It is our imperative above all else to do everything we can to save lives. Our leadership team made up of clergy and senior staff, our executive committee, and health professionals in consultation with the Newton Department of Health and Human Services has spent the past twenty-four hours determining the best way for...Read more...

COVID-19 Update | March 8, 2020

Ellie Goldman

Dear Temple Shalom Family,

This evening we were notified by the Newton Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that a parent of a child in our nursery school has been diagnosed with a presumptive case of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). The parent is exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Other information we know at this time:

The children in the family are healthy and have not exhibited any symptoms. The family is following...Read more...

COVID 19 Update | March 4, 2020

Ellie Goldman

Dear Temple Shalom Members

We want to assure you that the leadership of Temple Shalom is actively monitoring the coronavirus as well as government and public health information sources.  We are following the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and preparing a contingency plan for our learning programs, staff, and programming in the event of an outbreak of coronavirus in the Boston...Read more...

How Do We Want to be Remembered? | February 9, 2020

Rabbi Allison Berry

When we’re gone, how do we want to be remembered? These words flew through my mind this week, as I read about the death of Kobe Bryant, his 13 year-old daughter, and seven others in a helicopter crash on Sunday. This is the worst kind of senseless tragedy. My heart goes out to the families of all the victims.

In the New York Times, Marc Stein wrote in Bryant’s obit, that he was "a mammoth figure almost from the moment he...Read more...

How Do We Want to Be Remembered? | January 31, 2020

Rabbi Allison Berry

When we’re gone, how do we want to be remembered? These words flew through my mind this week, as I read about the death of Kobe Bryant, his 13 year-old daughter, and seven others in a helicopter crash on Sunday. This is the worst kind of senseless tragedy. My heart goes out to the families of all the victims.  In the New York Times, Marc Stein wrote in Bryant’s obit, that he was "a mammoth figure almost from the moment he...Read more...

We Are Jewish: Fighting Back Against Anti-Semitism | October 9, 2019

Rabbi Laura J. Abrasley

Like most of my friends and acquaintances in high school, I had a drab blue locker that was located far away from my home room. It was upstairs next to a long row of science classrooms. Everyone knew this was where all the Jewish kids had their lockers. They called it Hebrew Hall.

In my teenage mind, the location wasn’t assigned to me, I chose it. It...Read more...

Building Our Makom Kodesh (Holy Place) | October 8, 2019

Rabbi Allison Berry

When my father sold my childhood home, I cried. Never mind that I hadn’t lived there in 10  years - there is something visceral and real about letting go of a place where so many memories were made. And my dad is just like me. Over 50 years later, he still dreams of the row house in Worcester where he grew up. I wonder how many of you dream of places from your childhood that had a “forever” kind of impact on your lives. ...Read more...

With Hope in Our Hearts | September 30, 2019

Rabbi Allison Berry

It was Micah’s first trip to Israel. As we boarded our plane in Paris, I told him I had a secret, which he would learn the moment we arrived in Tel Aviv. During the entire flight, he bounced in his seat, asked me a million questions and begged me to tell him what the secret was. I didn’t. When the plane finally landed, everyone cheered and clapped. Micah turned to me looking confused, and asked, “Why did they do that?...Read more...

Sacred Time Connections | September 29, 2019

Rabbi Laura J. Abrasley

“Disconnect to Reconnect.” (1) The tagline caught my attention. I clicked onto the website, and there it was, a getaway called The Digital Detox Retreat. Big bold letters frame a picture of people chatting with one another in a beautiful forest, nary a smart phone in sight. I scrolled down to learn more, blissfully unaware of the irony: there I was imagining a screen-free weekend, but I had to surf the internet to do it.

The...Read more...

Lights of Liberty | July 18, 2019

Rabbis Abrasley and Berry

Jewish tradition teaches that we must treat the stranger with great care and concern. We find this passage in the book of Leviticus, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall do them no wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

We face a moment of great uncertainty and debate...Read more...

Thu, October 29 2020 11 Cheshvan 5781