Last month our water heater broke. We asked around for a plumber and found one. He arrived the next day, put in a new heater and we were back up and running soon enough. We paid him and were satisfied with the job that we hired him to do. It is a similar situation with a roofer, an electrician, a midwife. They have one job, they do it, they get paid. There is direct satisfaction.
The situation is more complicated when it comes to religion. People pay to be part of religious institutions So what job are those groups being paid to do? The answer comes from Rabbi Irwin Kula at the National Jewish Center for Learning & Leadership. He suggests that we hire religion to do the following seven things:
1. Connection: we want to be in a relationship with other humans. 2. Personal growth: we want to develop our mind, body and soul. 3. Social transformation: making the world a better place. 4. Meaning: finding our purpose in life. 5. Common Space: carving out a place where strangers become friends. 6. Creativity: increasing our curiosity and imagination. 7. Accountability: holding ourselves and others responsible for being ethical.
Now you might not agree with all of these, but religion has to do some of them otherwise it is not doing the job it was hired for. We do not just become members of shuls so that the shul exists for its own sake, to keep the doors open and the lights on, but for something greater and grander.
So, we look forward to seeing you at Temple Sinai in this busy month ahead, not just for the sake of it, but so we can connect, grow and find meaning.
L’shana tova u’metuka!
Have a good and sweet year!
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen, Sarah Stewart, Elijah & Rachel
It’s with great excitement that we welcome our newest members of staff, Alex Weisz, to the team. Alex will be our Community & Youth Engagement Coordinator. His primary responsibility will be to make families with school age kids feel even more part of the congregation. He will work alongside Heather, Dr. Knafo and myself to deepen the engagement of young people and their families.
Having just returned from summer camp, I know the value of young people who are fired up and proud of their Jewish identity. I spent time with teenagers who had come through the N.F.T.Y. framework (www.nfty.org), and had used part of their High School experience to study in Israel and who were determined to be the next generation of Jewish leaders. It was my privilege in July to be the Rabbi for the C.I.T. (Counselors in Training) group at Camp
Newman and see them get excited about nurturing the hopes and dreams of their young camper charges.
Alex is here to cultivate all of that within Temple Sinai by getting to know the young families from an early age and building a community for them within our community. Please make him welcome and please respond to his requests for support, either by going to programs or ensuring your kids go to them! This is a wonderful new commitment to our families by Temple Sinai and we all wish Alex so much success and look forward to supporting him in his endeavors.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen
At the end of May there was an incredibly inspiring event at Temple Sinai which was astonishingly wonderful. I did not even attend this event, I was actually the other side of the wall from it, but I was inspired nevertheless because of what it said about building a true community. The event in question was the kick-off session to an intergenerational cooking course, entitled “Plotz & Pans”, run by Ilana Shapiro, Sarah Stewart, Jackie & Shel Kolner.
The idea was to bring grandparents and parents, kids and grandkids together to cook Jewish food and learn about its origins. I was pretty envious of the forty or so people in the other room even though I also enjoyed our more traditional Shavuot celebration in the sanctuary. What did I love about it? Firstly, it was engaging people. Everyone eats and has an interest in food, so the event started with that and then brought some learning thereafter. Secondly, it was oversubscribed. There was a waiting list and the organizers had to squeeze people in. Lastly, it was different generations together.
That’s a true community, when young and old and everyone in between work together, live together, cook together and learn together. Too many times in our society the generations are disconnected. The young don’t listen or acknowledge the experience of the old and the old don’t understand or dismiss the fresh perspective of the young. Here, it was everyone mucking in together without a bit of tension. I can’t wait for the next installment of “Plotz & Pans”, so I can work and learn next to my kids. Feel free to join me…..if there’s space!!
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen
Even though we are far from Israel, we always should strive to be connected, construct a Gesher Chai, a Living Bridge, to her. This has to be done in the most concrete way possible to ensure that we carry out the mitzvah of Ahavat Tzion, love of the Land of Israel.
The best way to know the land is through the people, of course. That’s why I am pleased that Jewish Nevada
(formerly the Federation) is helping us financially to bring Rabbi Yael Karie over for our Congregational Retreat. Rabbi Karie is one of the trailblazing Reform Rabbis in Israel. She has been serving Kibbutzniks down near the Gaza border, bringing creative programming that even joins her Jewish charges with Bedouin and Muslim
counterparts in the area. She is one of the new generation of Israeli born Rabbis who believe that the Reform Movement there will bring Israeli society to a new level. We will enter into a long term partnership with Rabbi Karie as part of the Domim/Alike program, which brings Israeli and American Reform congregations together. One of
the best parts of the program is that it is partially funded by the Israeli government, which understands the mutual benefits of bridge-building.
What will this partnership look like? On the most basic level, we hope Rabbi Karie can visit us from time to time. It might be possible to see her in her natural habitat as well. Jewish Nevada is looking to take a family mission to Israel in June of 2018. By that time, Yael will probably be in a new job with a different congregation (it’s not public yet, but a great opportunity). Between face to face visits, the two of us will also
design programs whereby we can learn jointly with her Israeli congregants and do shared projects over the internet, even working out one-to-one contacts.
There are exciting times ahead and I am pleased that we, as a congregation, will be
able to take some initial steps across The Living Bridge.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen
Holocaust survivor Ben Lesser visited me in my office last month with his daughter. I had previously heard the amazing and disturbing story of his escape from the Nazis. They told me about a website they had launched.
WWW.I-SHOUT-OUT.ORG is dedicated to gathering together the voices of those who take a stand against prejudice in our society. The folks at I-SHOUT-OUT work every day to manage anti-bullying campaigns to eliminate hate and intolerance at their source: bullying. Their purpose is to make the world a more tolerant and peaceful place to live in for all people. Their anti-bullying campaign can make the powerless feel empowered; they want us to be a
part of the solution and join the millions that have become active participants of change to end the cycle of bullying. By choosing to SHOUT-OUT we help stand UP for those who cannot.
The I-SHOUT-OUT campaign is dedicated to building a more peaceful and tolerant world. At its extreme, bullying behavior can lead to the worst types of societies and genocides that we can imagine. The Holocaust and other tragedies all stem from the same root of intolerance. That’s why we have an obligation to end intolerance at its
source. Some of the victims of intolerance cannot speak up for themselves, they have been silenced.
So, how do you join the campaign? Go to the website and click on “shout-out now”. You then add your name, face and strength to the campaign. There are people from around the world who are making a stand against bigotry in all its forms. When you see people acting in a bigoted way to others it’s hard to do something, but if you
know you’re part of a worldwide group, you can gain strength from that. If Ben could thank you all individually, he would!
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen
In March I was in Carson City with Nevadans for the Common Good. Our Temple is a member thereof and we work on issues with lots of other faith based institutions to make the lives of our local Nevadan population better, Jews and others included.
On this visit we were focusing on two main things, namely getting more funding for Meals on Wheels and seeing if the State can commit
to the weighted funding formula. For Meals on Wheels, Governor Brian Sandoval generously said recently that he wanted to
include one and a half million dollars for the next two years to help the program. This is really fantastic and would help stabilize what we have already. We were in Northern Nevada, seeing if we could exert pressure to get enough extra money that would clear the
waiting list of around 1000 people, some of whom live in our own neighborhood. The Jewish value of ‘ma’achil re’evim/feeding the hungry’ comes heavily into play here. Aside from the Jewish, ethical support for this program, there is also a pragmatic reason. It costs so much less if a person stays in their home compared to if they go to hospital or residential care. Nutritional meals several times a week help keep people in their own homes. Up until now, the State is 51st in the nation for local funding for such a program,
but because of the pressure of groups like Nevadans for the Common Good, of which Temple Sinai is a part, the governor and other legislators are coming to understand how important the program is.
The second issue we were talking about was public education. Joshua Ben Gamla states in the Talmud (Bava Batra 21a) that schools should be established in every place. We certainly have that in Nevada and many of them are wonderful, but there is always room
for improvement. Nevadans for the Common Good has been arguing for a while now that a bit more public money should be devoted to English Language Learners, students who benefit from Free and Reduced Lunches, and students with special needs, whether that be learning difficulties or gifted and talented students. Legislators actually voted this in during the last session. We have been pushing them to put their money where their vote is and are making this happen for real.
I have to say that it is a real joy to see one’s Jewish values applying to the wider world to help Jewish people and others. It is a great privilege to be involved in this work as a Rabbi and is totally vital alongside the work I do inside the Jewish community. I urge you to inform yourself about these issues. Contact me directly if you want to know more about Nevadans for the Common Good, and be in dialogue with your local legislators to make our corner of Nevada a little bit better.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen
This is the time of year when the synagogue looks for new Board members. Taking on such a job is a sacred responsibility and one not to be taken lightly. It is one of the great pleasures of my job to see new and inspiring people starting to step up. In the words of our tradition: “in a place where there are no people, strive to be a person” (pirke avot 2.5). This beautiful phrase implies that being on the Board is not something that everyone jumps to do, but just because it’s hard and no one else is stepping up, doesn’t mean that you are free to leave it to others.
There are different reasons for being on the Board. The best is that you get to shape the future and vision for the institution. On committees you get to deal more intimately with logistics and practicalities, but as a trustee you get to chart the strategic course and influence the lives of our hundreds of families. You get to have an effect on not just how many people join the synagogue, but how deep their involvement
goes. There is also the chance to build long-lasting relationships with fellow trustees. Lastly, there is an opportunity to deepen your own learning and engagement with Jewish life.
I know you might be busy, but often the best board members are. Consider bringing your skills and email email@example.com to register your interest.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen
As I grew up in my Zionist youth movement, I was constantly having extremely lively conversations about Israel. Some of my friends made Aliyah and they went to live in Israel. They believed that moving to Israel and making the world a better place from there was ideal. They continue to engage very directly with Israeli society and improve it and the world.
In my time as President of the Board of Rabbis of Southern Nevada, I have been proud that the Board has hosted events which structure civil dialogue on Israel issues in particular. One of our congregants has always said to me that Israelis discuss their country from all parts of the discussion spectrum, so why shouldn’t we as American Jews? Engaging in dialogue and debate is one of the great pleasures and pastimes of the Jewish people and Israel is no different. I also believe that being confronted with different points of view, some of which are not our own, is invigorating and helps sharpen our search for truth.
With that in mind, one of our congregants, Jeff Moskow, is launching an Israel Engagement Study Group. In it he will facilitate discussions on different Israel issues but participants will take ownership for researching different facets of Israeli life and society such as the Jewish settlements in Judea/Samaria/The West Bank, the place of religion in Israeli society and the role of the army. Please email Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your place in this group. We are aiming for at least 20 participants.
As I said on Yom Kippur, Israel is a non-negotiable part of our Jewish identity, so please jump on this opportunity to engage in vibrant study while getting to know your fellow participants in a deeper way.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen
I think you have seen the phrase “Your Family, Your Home” on the letterhead of at the top of this very publication. It’s a nice phrase, has a great ring to it but it takes a lot to make it real, to make it more than a superficial slogan. At the heart of the phrase is the value of hachnasat orchim, welcoming guests, as exemplified by our father, Abraham, when he ran forth from his tent to welcome strangers in the middle of the wilderness: not just greet them with a smile but wash their feet, feed them and make sure they were comfortable. That’s a real welcome.
Aside from the fact that most visitors to Temple Sinai will not be angels in disguise (although you never know!), they all deserve a place here. The pleasant handshake, smile and “Shabbat Shalom” is nice enough but only goes so far. What about when they enter the sanctuary? Does anyone offer to find them a seat? Does anyone talk to them? What about at the Oneg afterwards? Do people invite them to sit at their table or do they save seats for old friends? Do they show an interest in the new person in terms of finding out their story, getting their number, offering to meet up for coffee, bringing them into a chavurah (small group)?
Remember, the vision of being, “Your Family, Your Home”, is based on the assumption that many new visitors come from out of town, are looking for community connections, intellectual, spiritual and social stimulation. They need somewhere to go in a very deep way and it is our duty to provide it for them.
I am writing this because I do not want us to become complacent. If we relax and just assume we are warm and welcoming without doing the work of being warm and welcoming then what is the point? Look out, in the near future, for “ambassadors” who will help with this but also consider yourself an ambassador for this congregation. If you know a couple of people here already, you are in a position to offer comfort and connection to someone new. If it’s good enough for Abraham, it’s good enough for us.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen
The world is an ever changing place and change is usually very difficult. I have seen a lot of turmoil in the Jewish community before and after our most recent election in November. I am acutely aware that there are both Republicans and Democrats who are members of Temple Sinai and that makes for a much richer and more interesting environment for me as the Rabbi here. In addition, turmoil or conflict in the Jewish community is mirrored in the globe. The overwhelming winds and forces of change can be frightening.
How do we respond to that? Firstly, Temple Sinai will always aspire to be a place where different views can be exchanged in a safe environment, symbolized by our vision of being “Your Family, Your Home”. Secondly, Temple Sinai’s values will not change whatever the changes there are in the world around her. We will still do everything in our power to be a warm and welcoming community. We will still inspire with worship that touches the soul and connects to the Divine. We will still value taking people from one chapter in their Jewish journey to the next through deep and engaging learning and educating our kids with sound moral values to prepare them for our future. We will never surrender our commitment to social justice in and outside of the Jewish community. We will always rejoice in our connection to and support for Israel and its people.
Those things will never change. Republicans, Democrats, men, women, Israelis, our interfaith partners, the LGBTQ community, mixed faith families and others are all welcome to share in those constants. Whatever the shifts and cycles around us, that is and will be what Temple Sinai stands for. In the meantime, I would appreciate folks from all parts of our membership spectrum taking the time to reach out and continue our never-ending conversation. Hineh tov u’manayim shevet achim v’achot gam yachad. How good and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together, as the book of Proverbs says. We all live in America together and will strive to do what is best for our country and its future. We must have faith and hope in each other to accomplish that much.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen