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
Last month Temple Sinai hosted a panel discussion with Conservative radio host Alan Stock and left-wing pollster Jim Gerstein. It was part of the Year of Dialogue Series by the Board of Rabbis of Southern Nevada. The discussion was actually less combustible than I had predicted, even friendly and respectful, but I was still happy at how it turned out, particularly because everyone on the panel and in the audience did not shout, rant, rave or denigrate.
I firmly believe that our shul is a microcosm of the world out there, a world which is becoming more and more like a bearpit in the political and religious realm. Can we solve all the problems of hatred and polarization that we find out there? Not necessarily, but we can start on our own doorstep. We can shout a message from the rooftops that contempt for other views and truths which are not our own is not acceptable. We can state clearly that bullying, shouting and not truly listening will never convince the other side that we’re right.
I know that people out there are hurting. They have had arguments, strong ones, with family and friends about politics and other topics. Let’s all take a deep breath, remember that we are all “kodesh l’Adonai, holy to G-d” regardless of our views. We all have different upbringings, genetic make-ups and experiences so why should we not have differing views? This is the most important message as we arrive at the High Holy Days. Bring peace and civil dialogue in your corner of the universe at least. You will be surprised how far the influence of that simple step will spread.
L’shana tova tikateivu/may you be inscribed for a good year
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen, Sarah, Elijah & Rachel
Rabbi Alan Lew talks about a time when he was hiking with his friend. They were in a nature preserve on Martha’s Vineyard. The storm came up and they took refuge in a shack with a big picture window. He was looking out the window in the rain at the birds and plants but none of that was really very interesting. His friend said, “Don’t look at the window rather at the window itself”. The world of the window with it smudges and tiny insects and reflections of the light contained a universe in of itself, a place with a life of its own.
When we come to the High Holy Days and think about repenting and examining our lives, we have to shift our gaze from the world itself to the window or lens through which we see it. That window is the filter through which we look at the world – our consciousness or perspective or life philosophy or attitude. Because the lens through which we look at life makes us see the world, differently the first step in examining our lives is to look at that lens itself.
Do we view the world as dark, a place of potential trouble, heartbreak and violence? Or do we see it as the domain of love, peace, kindness and goodwill? Usually, when our perspective on the world is negative it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and brings more bad events. Often, if we can see the universe as, in general, a good place, that attitude affects the world around us positively and brings and allows us to notice love and uplifting moments. We have to work hard on avoiding the former and doing the latter, supported by our friends and loved ones.
From our family to yours, may the window through which you look at the world this year reflect the pure light and all the goodness and kindness that is out there.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen, Sarah, Elijah & Rachel
I remember my early school days with undisguised glee. Endless days of soccer to the point of exhaustion, easy walks to school around the corner from my house and dressing up in all manner of costumes for larkabout theatrical productions. Mr. Windsor was the head of Broadfields Junior School in North-West London. He seemed, to my ten year old self, about nine feet tall, and spread a feeling of stern but fair, paternalistic education. Mr. King (still teaching there today), ushered into our brains the first scientific thoughts. Mr. Allen was known for doing the Rubix Cube blindfolded, and Mr. and Mrs. Davies (we couldn’t believe two of the teachers were married!) led sumptuous class trips to Switzerland to show us Londoners a bit of the wider world.
Most of these memories can be viewed clearly in my mind’s eye, albeit through rose tinted
spectacles. Traditionally, when a Jewish child attends their first day of school learning, we spread honey on the first page they see. In so doing, we forever associate the activity of learning with beautiful sweetness. At the same time, we acknowledge that kids, as they grow older, don’t always taste that sweetness and we have to work on strategies to change that. As adults, we also need to be reminded.
Learning can be joyful for its own sake, an exciting search for truth, practical to help with real world tasks and frustrating at times until enlightenment arrives. One of our missions as adults is to never forget the original, idealized, sweet early experiences. The other is to imbue the children in our care or mentorship with a love of learning which we can do by modelling it strongly. I know I won’t have all the teachers in the congregation on my side, but I think going back to school at the end of this month can help remind us of the amazing world of opportunities afforded to us by the world of learning.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen
If you have seen me with a smile on my face recently, then it is because many of those associated with Temple Sinai have recently visited Israel. Eric and Julie Littmann went on their first ever trip. Les and Barbara Gilbert visited family on their annual voyage. Rickie Orzen finally got to Israel with her son Mike after having planned a trip for years. Ilana Shapiro visited on a Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project tour. Matt Guzman and his fiance Sarah purchased in Jerusalem, among other things, their ketubah. If I have missed anyone, I apologize but this has been just in the last month!
As much as I might preach on Israel and our connection to the land and the people, nothing can compare to the actual experience. As much as I explain how Israelis are our brothers and sisters, even though thousands of miles separate us, it only hits home when you witness what Ilana witnessed at the Kotel, the Western Wall, in Jerusalem: a unit of soldiers singing “Am Yisrael Chai” and dancing with civilians as they engaged in their training. It only becomes real when you are like Les and Barbara, sharing a meal with their children and grandchildren in the house where their family lives as Israeli citizens. It is a concrete experience when, like Matt and Sarah, you plan a Jewish wedding while walking around a Jewish country, like Eric and Julie, when you reflect on years of service to the Jewish People while walking through a living testament to their fortitude.
Many people, particularly in the light of terrible events like the shooting attack in Tel Aviv, ask me about the danger of visits to Israel. I say I can never give them a perfect guarantee but they would still need to have some very bad fortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and the welcome and gratitude they will get from Israelis will be memorable. So, I know it’s expensive and time-consuming to get to Israel but, if you made it, thank you for strengthening your relationship with the mitzvah of ahavat tzion, loving Israel, and thank you, on that basis, for making me very happy.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen
One of the most fun aspects of this year has been working together to craft various projects. Together, we have sung Jewish songs on the Fremont Street Experience, knocked on doors in a local neighborhood to “sell” the shul and even appeared on the same stage as an Arab music band and belly-dancer. Having said all that, our bread and butter is the weekly project of the Shabbat service. It’s incredibly enjoyable to work out what might be meaningful to congregants young and old.
With that in mind, there have been some changes in recent months. You will have noticed the large crowds attending Friday Night Live. These wonderful attendances were secured by many one to one conversations and we appreciate seeing all the different generations in the sanctuary together, side by side. The repertoire of the choir has also changed as that group has grown and developed over time.
Nevertheless, we realize that in the “regular” Shabbat services, the pace of change has been hard to deal with and people have felt uncomfortable with some of it. We have heard comments regarding lack of “traditional” melodies. While traditional can mean different things to different people, we will endeavor to use some of the melodies which we know you like and appreciate, thereby providing a certain element of stability on the two or three Friday nights that might be described as “regular” alongside Friday Night Live and the Choir Shabbat. After all, we know that emotions of meaning, comfort and nostalgia, can be channelled through music.
Thank you so much for caring and feeding back to the Ritual Committee.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen & Cantorial Soloist Heather Klein