A Story of Hope

by Rabbi Jeffrey Clopper

I have a story of hope and unexpected kindness to share and it begins with the good will of some regular everyday teens. Back in February of this year, you may recall when one hundred headstones were toppled over in an old Jewish cemetery near St. Louis, Missouri. At a time when Jewish Community Centers and synagogues were tormented by threatening phone calls, the act stood as a stark reminder that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the United States. While our community was reeling, a national effort was undertaken. Several communities worked to raise funds to help repair the damage. In a short period of time, more than one hundred and seventy thousand dollars was collected. What made this particular campaign so remarkable is that it was initiated by the Muslim Community!

Around this time, a group of teens were inspired by the national fundraising effort. They decided they wanted to be a part of it, not so much to give to the national campaign, but to create their own opportunity. So, this group of high-schoolers organized a simple pizza sale and collected five hundred dollars all of which they decided to donate to help combat anti-Semitism.

I did say, though, this is a story involving Temple Beth El. The incredible part of this story is that these teens are all part of the Muslim Community belonging to Masjid Noor, the mosque located down the road on Park Avenue. I recently met one of the youth leaders from the mosque and it is most likely that connection that made this donation possible. Knowing the teens wanted it to help educate others about anti-Semitism, their leadership reached out to me. I suggested a number of wonderful options.

Ultimately, though, they decided to give it to Temple Beth El as part of our OneCommunity Initiative which has been impetus for the recent programs including Joseph Levin from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Reverend David Billings who spoke about the influence and challenges of White Supremacy in this country. A small group of leaders and I met with the teens recently when they brought the funds to us. I was so taken by the warmth, their kindness and their desire to want to help us. With all that has happened in our nation recently, there have been concerted efforts to bring together the many different faiths here on Long Island. Only recently have we created connections and friendships, most notably with Majid Noor and their community. Already in the past few months, I have met with their Imams on several occasions and visited their mosque a couple of times.

As I tell the story of the teen’s donation again and again, I find comfort and inspiration. Such a small gesture, but coming from their youth, it is as large as the universe. There is reason to hope, proof that we are surrounded by good and caring people. I have met them, shaken their hands, and seen us take our first steps to forging a deep meaningful connection with our Muslim brothers and sisters’ right here in Huntington. I forever will be grateful to these teenagers who have shown what hope looks like.

Esther: A Novel by Rebecca Kanner

by Cantor Alison Levine

Many of us are familiar with the story of Purim. How Esther became the Queen of Persia and saved the Jews from Haman’s evil plan. But what was it really like?

Rebecca Kanner answers this question as she tells the story of Esther in this work of historical fiction. Set in Persia in 480 BCE, it begins with Esther being kidnapped from her hut in the middle of the night by the King’s brutish warriors. Then she is forced to march across the scorched landscape to the Capitol City of Shushan as part of the virgin’s march. Once she is enslaved in the palace harem, she grows from a humble peasant girl to the confident Queen Esther. On her way, she has to deal with the endless intrigues of the harem. The current concubines see the new girls as a threat to their power and position. The most beautiful girls are targeted, including Esther.  She eventually makes an ally of the eunuch in charge of the Harem.

But is he really an ally? Will that be enough? Once she is made Queen, her trials are not over. How does she remain Queen? How does she have the strength to defy the king’s orders, risk her life, and save the Jews? Esther is not only beautiful but wise, resourceful, spirited, morally courageous and kind-hearted. It is these traits that help her navigate the treacherous world of the court of the mighty King Xerxes.

This story has vivid, historical detail, interesting characters, and good plotting. It has razor sharp dialogue and lots of political intrigue. These made the book a page turner. Despite knowing the story, Kanner fleshes out all the details and keeps up the suspense. I found that the descriptions of the court, the food, the palace, the King, the soldiers and the harem all brought this world to life and made the story of Purim much more three-dimensional. There are also a few additional characters to the story that do not appear in the biblical version. These include Ruti, a Jewish servant who is almost a mother figure to Esther; Halannah, Haman’s sister who is Esther’s most venomous rival in the harem; and Erez, a soldier who protects Esther during the march and is a source of comfort and conflict.

The author, Rebecca Kanner, is a Jewish freelance writer. She teaches writing at The Loft in Minneapolis. She has won an Associated Writing Programs Award and a Loft Mentor Series Award. Her stories have been published in numerous journals, including the Kenyon Review and The Cincinatti Review. In addition to Esther: A Novel, she has also published another biblical book, Sinners and the Sea, a novel about Noah’s wife.

The Eternal Wow

by Diane E. Berg, RJE, Educational Imagineer

At our first faculty meeting, I introduced the theme for the year: WOW. I wanted the teachers to work even harder to “wow” their students with engaging and innovative lessons. I wanted each classroom to elicit a “wow” response as the students entered. And I wanted every communal program to “wow” our kids with interest, laughter and relevance. I don’t do ordinary. Neither do my teachers. We do extraordinary! That is what makes our school such a great place to learn and experience the joy of being Jewish. After all, as Dr. Seuss said, “Children want the same things we want. To laugh, to be challenged, entertained, and delighted.”

There are no second chances in Jewish education. If a student walks away and feels that their religious school years were ordinary, or God forbid, a waste of time, then we have failed that child. And this is why we work so hard.  Looking back, we provided many exciting and positive events this past year. In December, we held a Maccabean Olympics where each grade’s team picked a name, designed a banner and performed a cheer. Teams then chose a champion to represent them for certain competitive Chanukah activities. From creating a Chanukiyah out of dominos to a Chanukah trivia competition, there was a great celebration for all.

I am sometimes asked, “why do I need to know Hebrew?’ So I created “Hebrew Letter Day” in January. Students cycled through interactive stations that showed many ways that Hebrew is used, including reading an Israeli menu, creating pins with their Hebrew initial, writing in calligraphy, and even “meeting” the creator of the modern Hebrew dictionary, Eliezer ben Yehuda.

In February, Rabbi Clopper turned the school upside down by creating a camp experience where the students followed a camp schedule that included an arts and crafts period where “campers” decorated rocks with Jewish values, competed in crossing a “lake”, learned summer and camp words in Hebrew, and even had snacks at canteen. None of the “campers” knew they were learning, but they were! That is the secret!

In March, families baked rainbow Hamentashen to create a more colorful Purim.  In April, students competed in a Passover Board Game. Teams answered questions and gained points with bonus questions. They were really reviewing the parts of the Seder but they didn’t know that was the purpose because it was so engaging. These special events show that learning can be, should be, and certainly is fun!

As we sang at our Seders, “Dayenu”, it would have been enough. It is never enough excitement, so in between our special events, we had school spirit days. This year, we had tie-dye / neon day, inside out day, and blue and white day. The students have to have fun and so do I.

I could not create this magical environment alone. I am ever so grateful to our teachers, to Maddy Schwartz, my brilliant, creative and supportive administrative assistant, our dedicated school chairs, Lisi Viesta and Andy Karpf, and our encouraging V.P. of Education, Linda Braun, our Religious School Committee volunteers, and our remarkably gifted and creative Rabbi Jeff Clopper.  Thank you.

I want to end by expressing my gratitude to our school parents, especially the ones who accepted the gift membership and entrusted their forty four children to our school family. I hope we wowed all of you!

Where Has the Time Gone?

by Howard W. Schneider, Temple President

Where has the time gone? It seems like only a short time ago that I was working on wrapping my head around the concept of becoming President of Temple Beth El, wondering if I could fill the “big shoes” left by my predecessor Marcia Schwalb. Now, here it is two years later and I am writing my last Bulletin article as President.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to my Executive Board, our Temple Board, our Clergy and our professional staff. Their ideas, energy and support has helped make the past two years an amazing journey filled with both religious and personal growth.

So, where has the time gone? It has been taken up with: making new friends and reinforcing existing friendships, sharing in Shabbat Services and holiday celebrations, participating in social action and social justice programs – all things I suspect I might have done to some degree anyway, but with an added sense of fulfillment. Instead of just being swept up with the flow of these activities, I got to join with a group of amazing people to help craft which way the tide would flow.

Thank you all for giving me this opportunity to expand my horizons and to be your representative. I look forward to continuing my temple journey and helping to support the visions of my successor – Shalom.

Seven Ways to Celebrate Shavuot

by Deborah Fallenberg, Sisterhood Vice President

This can be a very family-oriented holiday!  Shavuot – May 31st , the Festival of Weeks, marks the completion of the counting of the Omer which begins the second night of Passover and which is 49 days or 7 weeks of 7 days.  Omer means ‘sheaf’ and refers to the bundles of barley brought to the temple as thanks, hence the observance is, aka Harvest Festival. Shavuot is also a Pilgrimage Holiday along with Passover and Sukkot. And, it’s when we got the Ten Commandments…and there’s more!

Food: It is traditional on Shavuot to eat dairy foods.  Some believe that this is because Torah is like ‘honey and milk…under your tongue’. Others explain that when the Israelites received the Torah for the first time, they learned the kosher dietary laws and didn’t have time to prepare kosher meat, so they ate dairy instead. Go have fun in the kitchen and bring on the creamy kugel and the cheesecake!

Guests: On Shavuot, the Book of Ruth is read, the story of the first Jew by choice. You may recall that, following the deaths of her husband and father-in-law, Ruth chose to embrace Naomi’s religion and travel with her mother-in- law. On Shavuot, we consider sharing food and thoughts with others.

Games: Shavuot is about counting and numbers, so have fun with 49 (such as 49 reasons I love TBE) or 7’s. Draw or act out the Ten Commandments. Dress up as Ruth.

King David Birthday Party:  After Ruth remarried and had children, it came to pass that King David was her great-grandson. It is believed that he was born and died on Shavuot. Another reason to party – decorations, ice cream, presents!

Jewish Learning: The custom of staying up all night as a community, ‘Tikkun Leil’ evolved from the story of the Israelites at Sinai oversleeping and having to be awakened by Moses when he descended with the Ten Commandments. A communal night of learning and discussion can be planned, whether as a family, a congregation or by including other groups or faiths.

Nature: It is common for communities throughout the world to decorate their synagogues and homes with local greenery and seasonal flowers. Libyan and Moroccan Jews spray water onto passersby, because the Torah is compared to water. Shavuot in America occurs in the spring, a perfect time of year to connect with and appreciate nature, when everything is blossoming. Spend time outdoors!

Reflections: Counting up from Passover to Shavuot reminds us of moving from slavery to liberation. The story of Ruth contains the themes of search and struggle, conviction and conversion.

Which recipe should I use? There are many thought-provoking and fun topics this holiday season. These ideas are based on an article from the Jewish News Service. Enjoy!

Social Action Committee News

by Carol Werblin, Social Action Chairperson

Giving is becoming contagious in our community. Here at Temple Beth El we continue to reach out to the community, providing food, clothing and shelter. As the years pass, the need for food continues to increase. Thanks to so many generous community businesses, we are able to provide nutritious perishable food, in addition to the non-perishable food in our pantry. I wish to recognize some of the places that donate to us on a regular basis so you can let them know how much we appreciate what they do for the community.

In March, we held our Annual Purim Baby Boutique. The Social Hall and Atrium were transformed into a baby emporium where families from the Dolan Family Health Center, Family Service League, Tri-CYA and some local shelters “shopped” with their children. We had many wonderful donations this year that filled the atrium with cribs, strollers, walkers, car seats, and high chairs. Many of our shoppers were expectant moms who left with their arms and hearts full. Thanks to you who have helped to give these newborns some of the basics they need to get started in life.

We also ended our 11th year as a respite site for HIHI- the Huntington Interfaith Homeless Initiative. Once again, we partnered with Huntington Jewish Center and East Northport Jewish Center to make sure that our guests had a warm place to stay and hearty meals to eat this winter. Northport High School’s “Students for 60,000” spent many hours interacting with our guests. We continue to be able to host this program thanks to an outpouring of generous volunteers and donations. Thank you to everyone who provided food, clothing, and toiletries, as well as those who cooked, set up, cleaned and chaperoned multiple times. And thanks to our coordinators, Paula Klein, Lucy Raskin, and to our steadfast morning crew.

This year, we hosted our Annual Spaghetti Dinner. We turned our Social Hall into an Italian bistro and served one hundred and forty guests a wonderful meal. Thanks to the wonderful donations from Red, Reinwald’s Bakery, St. Hugh of Lincoln, and Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, dinner was a huge success. Every Monday night, Copenhagen Bakery donates whatever bread and pastries are remaining in their shop. The bread is used for sandwiches that are delivered to Manor Field Family Center and to Tri-CYA’s after-school programs. Very often, these are the only meals the children in Huntington receive.

On Wednesdays, Reinwald’s Bakery donates pastries, cakes, pies and bread to our HIHI program. Thursdays – Our Lady Queen of Martyrs delivers bags of food to local families; our “Give and Receive” program receives five of those donations, which are then delivered to families in the Huntington area.  On Saturdays, Trader Joe’s, IGA, and Reinwald’s, donate bread, vegetables, desserts and fruit that are used for Sunday Suppers at the Moose Lodge and to the Community Meals that we have at temple.  It’s important to realize that these are just the donations that are given to TBE. These establishments continue to give throughout the week to other not-for- profits. How wonderful it is to be a part of a community that takes care of its families! Please stop in and let them know how thankful we are for their support.

Upcoming Events:
– We are again providing Mother’s Day Baskets for local shelter residents. We’re collecting toiletries, and make-up, stationary, large baskets, and any other items- such as candles, perfumes, small frames that will make these baskets extra-special for local moms. Please place donations in the basket in the temple atrium until May 3rd .
– Project H.O.P.E. Sunday Supper: May 21st and June 4th at the Moose Lodge in Greenlawn.
– The Annual Community Barbecue.  Please look for upcoming fliers for details.

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