An Update from Temple Emanuel Retirees in Mitzvah Service (TERMS)

Perhaps you noticed the beautiful flamingo pink flowering trees behind the Temple parking lot this Summer? They are Mimosa trees which are very common in South New Jersey. TERMS member Lee Feldman brought a Mimosa from his parents’ home in Cherry Hill New Jersey 33 years ago. Every year, the tree blooms and drops seeds which take root in his flower bed. He took some of those young trees and planted them at Temple for your enjoyment. TERMS members work on their own projects or join with other TERMS members on bigger projects which benefit Temple or the community.

Simchat Torah Temple-Style

Our fall season of holidays came to a close with our wonderful Simchat Torah celebration on Sunday, September 30.  With our service led by Rabbi Don and Rabbi Locketz, we marched and danced with the Torahs to music by the Hot Matzohs.  Our younger folks enthusiastically waved their flags, while the adults carried the Torahs throughout the Sanctuary.  A highlight of the morning was our  Torah service with 16 congregants each reading or chanting a line!  With our Torah Center teachers and madrichim chanting the aliyot, it was truly a special time for all.

Many thanks to our teen videographer, Harrison Pittle, who captured the spirit of the morning for us in this great video!

We celebrate Sukkot in style!

What a wonderful time we’ve had celebrating Sukkot at Temple Emanuel so far this year.

First, our MOTE volunteers came together to build our sukkah, no small task given the many parts and pieces that comprise our VERY sturdy structure.

Next, we had quite a crew turn out to decorate both the indoor and outdoor sukkahs.  Under the direction of our Torah Center/ECDC Art Teacher Michelle Dreyfuss, they made awesome decorations.  Everyone helped to hang their creations, and to decorate with cornstalks, gourds, pumpkins and more.  We’ve even perfected the “javelin throw” technique for getting the cornstalks onto the roof!

On Sunday evening, we came together for our Erev Sukkot service.  After enjoying a tasty spread of wine, cheese, fruit, veggies and even a few sweets, we welcomed with festival with a lively service led by Rabbis Rossoff and Locketz.  Everyone had the opportunity to shake the lulav and smell the etrog before heading home.

Check out our Sukkot slideshow!

 

An Update from the Temple Emanuel Worship Team

Temple Emanuel Worship Team

At every Temple Emanuel Worship Team meeting, we devote a portion of time to listening to the concerns or suggestions from congregants that have been brought to the attention of one of our team members. This feedback is vital to our committee and has helped enact many positive changes throughout the years. So we were delighted when the congregational survey and focus groups that were conducted in the spring brought to us a wealth of information about what qualities our congregants would like to see, not only in our new settled rabbi, but also in the congregation as a whole. The overarching theme of the feedback was that Temple Emanuel members want to see a more welcoming, inclusive environment for all congregants and guests. Towards that end, the Worship Team, including Rabbi Don and Rabbi Jessica, have made several changes that we hope will lead to more inclusivity.

Perhaps the most noticeable of these changes has been to our Saturday morning b’nei mitzvah services.  After talking to those in attendance at the first bat mitzvah of the school year, the feedback was very positive. Congregants and guests really enjoyed the warm and inclusive touches that just a few tweaks to the service brought about. Come to a b’nei mitzvah service soon and check them out for yourself! Here are the highlights:

  • Friday Evening
    • On Friday evening, the family will be called up for the candle lighting and the Kiddush, with parents each reading a prayer in Hebrew or English.
  • Saturday Morning
    • There will be an opportunity for an English prayer to be read by younger siblings.
    • The Torah will be symbolically passed through the generations, involving parents and grandparents, including non-Jewish parents and grandparents if they so choose.
    • As the Torah is passed from the parent(s) to the student, a parent may read a brief (250 words) address to their child.
    • The first part of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s D’var Torah (speech) will serve as the introduction to the Torah reading.
    • There will generally be five Aliyot in a service, the first being the “Community Aliyah” and the rest designated as “Family Aliyot” which can be shared by multiple people:
      •       Aliyah 1                       Community members
      •       Aliyah 2                       Uncles, aunts, cousins
      •       Aliyah 3                       Grandparents
      •       Aliyah 4                       Parents
      •       Aliyah 5                        Bar/Bat Mitzvah student
    • The Bar/Bat Mitzvah students will generally be reading or chanting the 4 family aliyot.
    • Each Aliyah can be shared by multiple persons. If there are few family members, friends may be called up.

Another area where we’ve made some positive changes is to the High Holiday programming.  Those changes include:

  • On both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we will only have one morning service, beginning at 10:00 a.m. The Prek-6 programming and the babysitting will take place during this service. (The family service will take place at 2:45 p.m. each day.)
  • In order to enrich the Yom Kippur afternoon and give congregants a place to continue their observance, Temple is offering several beit midrash offerings starting at 12:30.  Here is the schedule:
    • 12:30-1:15  
      • “Making Gratitude Jars” in the Art Room with Michelle Dreyfus
      • “Maimonides’ Steps to True Repentance” in the WRJ Room with Rabbi Rossoff
    • 1:30-2:15
      • “Making Gratitude Jars: in the Art Room with Michelle Dreyfus
      • “What is the Religious Action Center and Why Should I Care?” in the Community Room with Rabbi Locketz and Dave Rullo
    • 2:30-3:15
      • “Conflict Resolution for Yom Kippur and All Year” in the Community Room with Ron Richards
      • “The Torah’s Attitude of Gratitude” in the WRJ Room with Rebecca Schwartz

   We also have a couple of exciting events coming up:

  • On October 13, we will have a Havdalah Hayride at Simmons Farm.  This the first in a series of planned Havdalah programs throughout the year.  For more information, see the bulletin or website.
  • On November 2, we will host a Potluck Shabbat.  Families are asked to bring a dairy main or side.  We’ll have a wonderful family dinner before heading to services.  (More details to follow.)

We hope you are as excited about these changes and events as the Worship Team is.  As always, please reach out to any member of the team with questions, concerns, comments, or suggestions.  We are always striving to make Temple a place where we can all worship and study in a welcoming environment.  

Parashat Chukat D’var Torah

Parashat Chukat D’var Torah

Rabbi Mark Joel Mahler

June 22-23, 2018/10 Tammuz 5778 

According to the traditional interpretation of this Shabbat’s Torah portion, Chukat, between the last word of chapter 19 and the first word of chapter 20, thirty eight years transpire when the Israelites tarried in the wilderness waiting for the old generation to pass and a new generation to arise who would possess the faith in God to enter the Promised Land. Thirty eight years amount to a blank space in the Torah, thirty eight years so utterly wasted that the Torah offers not account of them.

With this Shabbat my next to last Shabbat as Temple Emanuel’s senior rabbi, concluding my thirty-eight years serving the congregation, Parashat Chukat’s thirty eight year blank-space no-account in Torah opened my eyes wide.  I cannot conclude my thirty eight years without making account for them in the annals of Temple Emanuel.

Thus I sat down and thought back through the years to recall, at least to the best of my memory, various religious services, programs and events.  Some I masterminded.  Some I helped facilitate.  Some I leave for Rabbi Locketz to claim such as Torah Growers and Visual T’fila, even if I coined the name of the former and had long advocated the implementation of video screens in our prayer spaces to enhance religious services; Rabbi Locketz indeed implemented them.  All were in coordination with professional staff, lay leaders and Temple committees, and various constituencies of Temple members.  For when and where you helped me or I helped you, or you benefited in some way, I thank you.

So, off the top of my head, without combing through all my files of committee meetings, Board minutes, lesson plans, teaching materials, personal calendars and message logs over the last thirty eight years….

Worship

  • A new Torah for Temple (see Teaching below)
  • Transition from performance style services to participatory services, especially with music and singing
  • Shabbat service every Shabbat morning in addition to every Shabbat evening
  • Menu of Shabbat evening services to suit various tastes in services and allow for creativity in Shabbat programs
  • Yizkor service on Shavuot morning when Confirmation is Shavuot evening
  • Leil Tikkun Shavuot when Confirmation is Shavuot morning*
  • Torah for Tots monthly services and programs*
  • Monthly Home Havdalah hosted by the Mahlers*
  • Sunday Morning Minyan
  • Tashlich on Rosh HaShana afternoon
  • Kabbalat Shabbat services, starting at an earlier time, originally 6 pm, now 6:30 pm. When I arrived in 1980, Shabbat services started at 8:30 pm
  • Monthly Family Shabbat service with Torah Center students participating in the service, preceded by Shabbat LaMishpacha Dinners for individual grades and then the congregation at large*
  • Special music Shabbats highlighted by Kol Emanuel, Music with the Mahlers and Diskin Music Fund programs
  • Zamarim Choir to enhance Shabbat services*
  • Lamed Vav-niks; 36 Temple members chosen to participate in regularly in Shabbat services and then to assess what the experience has meant to them
  • College Homecoming Shabbat services*
  • Kabbalah, Meditation, Chanting
  • Cancelled our own Shabbat service on April 28, 2000 so that we could attend at Beth El Congregation which had been attacked by Richard Baumhammers earlier that day
  • Impromptu Jewish community-wide service September 11, 2001. Attendance was so large that we opened the Sanctuary’s folding doors, set up additional seating in the Social Hall foyer; many people had to share a prayer book because we didn’t have enough for all in attendance
  • Flight 93 Memorial service in Shanksville, Chanukah 2001
  • Memorial and Healing Service for Jewish volunteers working to identify the remains of those who perished in the crash of USAir Flight 427, 2004

 

Teaching

  • A new Torah for Temple (see Worship above)
  • Torah Study every Shabbat morning preceding services
  • Torah and Tangents, weekly reading and discussing every word of the Torah, starting in 1985 and concluding in 2011
  • T’hillim and Tangents following Torah and Tangents, concluding in 2017
  • Monthly Downtown Lunch & Learn
  • “Midrash in the Morning”*
  • Renaming Temple’s religious school “Torah Center”
  • Family Days for Religious School families on Sundays and Shabbats
  • “Judaism for Gentiles and Inquiring Others”
  • “Life’s Long Journey: From Conception to Resurrection” What Judaism teaches about life’s many stages
  • “Jesus the Jew”
  • “The Napoleonic Sanhedrin and the Emergence of Modern Judaism”
  • Jewish Parenting Programs and programs on the spiritual development of children, along with Alice
  • “Talmud Torah Teaching Shabbats”; the “how to” of praying
  • “4,000 Years of Jewish History in 8 Hours”
  • Dor-Ways special leadership development sessions for selected members of the congregation
  • Promoted and hosted Melton Programs; at one point Temple had more members who had completed Melton than any two synagogues together in greater Pittsburgh
  • Special adult education programs featuring Dr. Ron Bronner, Rabbi Danny Schiff and various speakers and educators
  • Introduction to Judaism, History classes, the course team taught by Pittsburgh area Reform clergy
  • Taste of Judaism
  • Monthly Lunch and Lectures*
  • Member of National Association of Temple Educators and Coalition for Alternatives (now Advancements) in Jewish Education during my tenure as Temple Educator
  • Conducted National Association of Temple Administrators’ certification course when NATA convened here in Pittsburgh
  • 38 years of Temple Bulletin articles
  • 38 years of sermons, Divrei Torah and High Holy Day sermon anthologies
  • 38 years of teaching our Confirmation students
  • 38 years of helping to train our B’nei Mitzvah students
  • 38 years of teaching Torah at every Bar and Bat Mitzvah

 

Interfaith

  • Created Temple’s Interfaith Outreach program in the 1980s, the first in Greater Pittsburgh which served as the prototype for other Reform congregations*
  • Interfaith Dialogues; many over the years, currently hosted at Westminster Church
  • Speaker at area churches: Mt. Lebanon United Methodist, Southminster, Westminster, Christ United Methodist among many others
  • Sustaining SHIM’s prominence at Temple and in the community, including participating on the Holocaust Observance planning committee and the Interfaith Thanksgiving service and promoting important SHIM activities such as their food bank and garden.
  • Jewish Chautauqua Society adjunct professor teaching Judaism in the Theology Department at Duquesne University, 1986-1990
  • Teaching at Seton Lasalle High School, 2006-2016
  • Hosting church groups at Temple, highlighted by St. Louise De Marillac sending their 6th graders here for annual visits starting in the 1980s
  • Conducting model Passover Seders for students at various church schools, highlighted by St. Anne’s
  • Clair Hospital Annual Memorial Service
  • University of Pittsburgh Medical School Annual Memorial service
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day keynote speaker at Trinity Cathedral for the National Conference of Christians and Jews
  • Joint programing and pulpit exchange with the Ebenezer Baptist Church

 

Funds and Programs

  • The Sajowitz Endowment Fund underwriting Temple programs, NFTY and Israel scholarships
  • The Louise “Sissie” Sperling Fund subventing Temple’s operating expenses
  • Diskin Music Fund to create and enhance various music programs
  • Ettenson Annual gifts and bequests to Temple
  • Larry and Brenda Miller Caring Community Fund to assist in the good efforts of the Caring Community
  • Temple Cemetery Fund to maintain and beautify our cemetery
  • Shelly Cohen Memorial Classroom Fund to maintain our ECDC classrooms
  • Margarie Weiner Fund to support Temple’s youth programs
  • Cohn Scholarship Fund for outstanding Temple high school graduates
  • Zolot Fund providing scholarships to adults for Temple Israel Missions
  • Jacob’s Ladder Fund to support programs for healing and well being*
  • Mark Levin Memorial Scholarship Fund for Torah Center students

 

Social Action/Tikkun Olam

  • Recruited an entire busload of Temple members to demonstrate on behalf of Soviet Jewry on the Mall in Washington DC, Freedom Sunday 1987
  • Organized Temple members to serve as hosts and sponsors for Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union coming to Pittsburgh under the Passage to Freedom program
  • Mitzvah Day; 500 Temple members participated in the first Mitzvah Day in 1997 until…
  • Mitzvot Days became the subsequent and more accurate name, but participation flagged until they were dropped from Temple’s calendar*
  • On-going pipeline for SHIM activities such as food and clothing drives
  • Family Promise participants in aiding the homeless in the South Hills
  • Organized city-wide Mission to Washington following 9/11 to advocate for Israel, then the largest such Jewish Mission to DC in history; sessions with elected representatives and State Department officials
  • Organized a Temple Mission to Washington conducted by the Religious Action Center, 2012
  • Established lines of communication with the superintendents of area public school systems, both proactively and reactively, to help remediate various issues that arose
  • Cheerleading our self-motivated and dynamic Social Action Team to pursue activities ranging from crocheting caps for Cancer patients to participating in rallies and demonstrations for Tikkun Olam causes

 

Israel/Tikkun Olam

  • Organized six Temple Emanuel Missions to Israel, and guided upwards of 100 people around the places I know so well and love so much
  • Co-led a unique Jewish, Christian and Muslim interfaith Mission to Israel, 1996
  • Participated in a Union for Reform Judaism Mission to Israel, 2001
  • Participated in a Rabbinic Cabinet Mission to Israel, 2006
  • A strong voice of Israel advocacy, a sober voice of Israel criticism

 

Healing and Well Being/Tikkun Olam

  • Caring Community to respond to our members in life’s varied experiences
  • Crisis counseling coordinated by Alice after community tragedies and traumas
  • Jacob’s Ladder programs focusing on various special needs
  • Monthly Bereavement group
  • Monthly services of healing*
  • Including the Mi Sheberach prayer of healing to Shabbat evening services and the Sunday Morning Minyan
  • Torah Yoga and Hatha Yoga

 

T’fila Transitions

  • From the original Gates of Prayer to the revised (gender neutral) GOP
  • To Mishkan T’filah, including the wise decision to buy the two volume edition, separate Shabbat and Weekday/Festival prayer books, rather than the one volume edition
  • From Gates of Repentance to Mishkan HaNefesh, the first Reform synagogue in Greater Pittsburgh to adopt it for the entire congregation

 

Life Cycles

  • Hundreds of baby namings and Brit Milah
  • 300 weddings
  • 1200 b’nei mitzvah
  • 700 Confirmands
  • 950 Funerals
  • Countless tears
  • Innumerable smiles

 

Physical Plant Expansion, Improvement, Maintenance and/or Beautification

  • 1991 expansion of Temple adding bath rooms, elevator and access ramps making Temple fully ADA compliant, even though we were not required
  • 2001-2002 major expansion of Temple to alleviate “Temple moments” with the building bursting at the seams; 13,000 square feet added to the building including the Beit HaT’fila, Pollon Family Library, community room and an entire new wing with classrooms, youth lounge and WRJ Room.
  • Cooper Gardens
  • Mahler Garden
  • Holocaust Memorial Garden created by Marga Randall
  • Soodik Walkway
  • New Torah covers in the Sanctuary and Beit HaT’fila
  • Tree of Life/Paradise woodcut in the Sanctuary Ark

 

Technology

  • Introduced the first computer to Temple, and Apple ii+, part of my studies in the MSIS program at the University of Pittsburgh; the rest as they say has been a veritable explosion of information technology here at Temple
  • Shabbat Shel Home dial up access to religious services, innovative in its day
  • The Temple Bulletin had been mimeographed for years before I arrived
  • Transitioning our b’nei mitzvah recordings from cassette tapes to MP3s.
  • Video cameras in the Sanctuary and Beit HaT’fila for recording our b’nei mitzvah services
  • Overseeing the installation of sound system for the Beit HaT’fila and a new sound system for the Sanctuary
  • When will we start streaming our services?

 

Special Events or Celebrations

  • Temple’s Double Chai 36th Anniversary
  • Temple’s 50th anniversary year featuring Temple’s “Alumni Rabbis” Harold Silver, Jon Stein and Jim Bleiberg
  • Israel’s 50th anniversary when we turned the Social Hall into Jerusalem’s Old City where we ate a Middle Eastern Shabbat dinner in our “Shuk” and then celebrated Shabbat and Israel Independence Day at our “Kotel” constructed, painted and decorated by Temple members to look amazingly like the actual Kotel

 

Fundraising and Financial

  • Capital Campaign 1991-1992, solicited and secured lead gifts
  • Capital Campaign 2001-2002, solicited and secured lead gifts
  • Capital Campaign 2013-2017, solicited and secured lead gifts

 

Temple Long Range Planning Committees

  • Joshua Mission I, 1998-2000
  • Joshua Mission II, 2007-2008

 

Community

  • Secured a $1 million contribution to the Jewish Federation
  • Secured a $25,000 contribution to SHIM
  • Served on the Jewish Federation’s 1984 Demographic Survey committee
  • Served on the search committee for the Educator to lead the Agency for Jewish Learning
  • Jewish Family and Children’s Service Board member
  • United Mental Health Board member

 

Rabbinic Organizations

  • Founder of the Greater Pittsburgh Reform Rabbis’ group, 1986
  • Chair of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Fellowship, 1986-87
  • Resolutions Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Israel Committee of the CCAR
  • Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America

 

Special Endeavors

  • Journal of Judaism; publication of Temple members’ various expressions of how they have lived as Jews and what Judaism means to them.
  • Cheshbon HaNefesh, “Surveys of the Soul” to gather information about Temple member’s Jewish knowledge, beliefs and observances; a treasure trove of who and what we are*
  • Emanuelites to integrate new, young Temple members into Temple life*
  • Made a photographic log of Temple’s 2001-2002 construction and expansion project

There’s likely more, but I just can’t quite recall all of them.  Time to retire!

 

* Examples of something we instituted but ultimately fell by the wayside, whatever the reasons may have been

 

 

 

 

Summer, Shabbat, S’mores and More!

Last Shabbat we gathered in Bird Park for a “welcome to summer” picnic and service. It was a beautiful evening in a beautiful place, surrounded by friends of all ages. For many of us, it was truly the start of summer break – a perfect way to begin the ‘lazy days of summer.’ Running through the park, sharing a meal, talking to each other as the the evening cooled and the busyness of the week faded… Shabbat, and the sense of calm that it brings descended as we prayed together – led in worship by Rabbi Mahler, Rabbi Locketz and Rebecca Schwartz. We were inspired through singing songs and sharing the spirit of Shabbat with each other. Thank you to Rebecca for a powerful message about the work that needs to be done within a community; and for reminding us that we should all be proud of our contributions to it.

After the service, it was time for s’mores….what could be better than that?!?!?!

 

Join us for our next Service in Bird Park on Friday, September 7th. We will once again come together for a picnic dinner at 5:45 pm followed by a brief Shabbat service at 6:30 pm. And of course there will be S’mores….yum!

Mark your calendars; be sure not to miss it!

Remarks at Retirement Gala

Remarks at Retirement Gala

Rabbi Mark Joel Mahler

June 3, 2018/20 Sivan 5778

            Before I offer my prepared remarks I must note that I had hoped to have the opportunity to express my gratitude personally and directly to everyone who has come this evening.  Try as I may, I managed to do so with only perhaps half of you.  To the other half, please accept my regret but more important please accept my gratitude that you have come this evening.

            How well I remember that Dr. Solomon Freehof described the rabbinate as a “happy profession.”

            For weeks after I sent the letter announcing my retirement to the congregation, my mind wandered back and back again to when I first  decided to become a rabbi.  Every remembrance was a happy remembrance about a happy decision.  I also recalled how happy I was when I was accepted to rabbinic school.  I trust that my all of my clergy colleagues here this evening felt the same elation when they were accepted to seminary, as we all felt elation greater still when we were ordained.

            Tomorrow, I will mark the fortieth anniversary of my ordination, so this evening I have the perfect vantage to confirm the accuracy of Dr. Freehof’s description.

            Temple members should remember that I’ve been pondering such a notion for the past forty-five years, ever since I dreamed a dream in Jerusalem shortly after I arrived for my first year of rabbinic school in the summer of 1973. The dream ended with me an old man getting ready to go to festivities at my synagogue on the occasion of my retirement. In the dream, my mood is pensive and kvetchy, but with me are three sons sitting in my bedroom, joking with me and lifting my spirits.  Of course when I had this dream in 1973, I had no sons nor daughters, but I did have Alice.

            While getting ready to come here this evening, I asked my sons Ari and Moshe and my future son by marriage Ed to sit down on my bed and pose for photographs. I then asked my daughters, Shani and Shira and my daughter by marriage Lacey to join them for more photographs. Here I must add that I love the expression, “son or daughter by marriage,” an expression I learned from Rabbi Bill Sajowitz, of blessed memory, especially here at Temple Emanuel.  Alice and my sister Jackie then joined in the photographs.  Altogether it was a happy prelude to this evening’s Gala.

            Temple members may also remember that this dream began at a party in Weehawken, New Jersey, hosted by a Genie who said to me, “Mark, you will have everything you want in life.”  Such an extravagant promise stunned me.  “Everything?” I asked.  “Everything,” the Genie replied.  He then dipped a cup in a punch bowl, handed it to me and said, “Drink this.”  I drank.  Suddenly I was that old man in his bedroom getting ready for festivities in honor of his retirement, pensive and kvetchy, with three sons sitting on his bed, lifting his spirits.

            When I awoke that morning in Jerusalem, the dream perplexed me.  If indeed I would have everything I wanted, why was I pensive and kvetchy at the end of the dream?

            The Talmud teaches that just as there is no wheat without chaff, so too there is no dream without nonsense.  This evening, I believe that I can separate the wheat from the chaff of this dream.

            First, I am not nearly as old in reality as this dream portended.  Indeed, one of the great blessings of my forty years in the rabbinate has been my remarkable good health.  Thank God.  In this regard, Dr. Freehof was right.  Yet perhaps the Genie was also right that a long life awaits me.

            Second, forty-five years after dreaming this dream, I’ve realized so much of what the dream foretold, and more.  A beautiful wife, with beautiful children – daughters as well as sons – with grandchildren the cherry on top.  And more.  Thirty-eight years at a congregation I was proud and honored to serve.  Good friends and respected colleagues here and across the community.  And much more….

            The God of our people, who is ever-present, under the Chupa with bride and groom, manifest in the mutual endeavors of professional staff and lay leaders, in the naches we all shared in Temple’s amazing children, and in the comfort we found when many of you and I walked together through the valley of the shadow of death.  The imminent God, the shepherd God, happily proves Dr. Freehof and the Genie right. And still more….

            The God heaven and earth, the transcendent God, the indescribably awesome God, now proves the wisdom of Rabbi Ely Pilchik, who first guided my application to rabbinic school and then installed me as Rabbi of Temple Emanuel in 1985.  When he was president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Rabbi Pilchik gave a presentation on “Finding Religious Awe in the Rabbinate.”  Rabbi Pilchik began, “Each time I must speak to the Jewish people, I am gripped by the sense of awe that nowhere is God more present than in the presence of the Jewish people before whom I stand.  This sense of awe overwhelms and humbles me.”

            In the history of the Jewish people, who stood in the presence of God more than Moses?  Who had to speak to the Jewish people with greater urgency and surely more lastingly? Therefore who knew this sense of overwhelming awe better than Moses?  No wonder that yesterday’s Torah portion described him, v’ha-ish Moshe anav me’od, “And this man Moses was very humble, more so than any other man on earth.”

            Dr. Freehof and the Genie were right: the rabbinate is a happy and fulfilling profession.

            Rabbi Pilchik and Moses were also right: The rabbinate is also deeply humbling, perhaps more so than any other profession on the face of the earth.

            Every time I had to speak to the Jewish people or about the Jewish people, I was gripped by a sense of overwhelming awe.  …Never more so than this evening.  So I have done my best to muster these grateful and humble words.

            Thank you to our lay leaders who impressed upon me that this evening is indeed important to them as well as to me.

            Thank you to everyone who participated in this evening’s program, starting with M.C. and past president Mel Vatz, colleague and friend Rabbi Danny Schiff, so many Temple presidents, and dear Temple member Deb Levy for the time and effort you devoted to preparing and the appreciation and affection you’ve given me.

            Thank you to Susan Hommel, and to everyone who helped you plan and put together this evening.  Please understand that if I cannot name all of you by name, it is because this committee was very good at keeping me as far away from this loop as I should have been.

            To our professional staff and our support staff for whatever assistance you offered in making this evening, thank you.  Since I also thanked our superb support staff  in detail in my May Temple Bulletin article, I look forward to offering further thanks to Temple’s professional staff – Rabbi Locketz, Leslie Hoffman and Iris Harlan – at next Sunday’s annual congregational meeting.

            Thank you to dear friends, rabbinic and clergy colleagues and Jewish professionals who have come from across greater Pittsburgh.

            Thank you to our “surprise guest” Dale Gonyea.  When he entertained us in 2015, I was so impressed with his talent, wit and creativity, that I told him I hope we can bring him back sometime in the future.  How wonderful that this evening became that occasion.

            Thank you to beloved family who have traveled from far and wide.

            Thank you to all the well-wishers who expressed their regret to me that they could not be here this evening.

            Thank you to every one who is part of this wonderful congregation, but most especially thank all of you for coming to this singular and memorable evening in my life.

            Finally, thank God for holding off the rain until everyone could get here safe and dry.

Who is a Jew? Amiens, France, 1940-1945

“Who is a Jew? Amiens, France, 1940-1945”

A set of photo identification cards of Jews from Amiens, France is now on display in Temple Emanuel’s “Thou Art” Gallery (near the Pollon Family Library). This new exhibit, “Who is a Jew?” is the product of historian David Rosenberg’s research.

As a member of the Adult Education/beit Hamidrash committee, Dr. Rosenberg — who is also a long-time Temple member with his wife Davant — offered to create this exhibit, which explores how French Jews self-identified when forced to register during the Nazi occupation of World War II. His research provides a chilling glimpse into the past and a reminder of a time in history that must never again repeat.

Speaking about the exhibition, Dr. Rosenberg says, “The lessons of the Shoah are important for Jews and non-Jews alike. This research has led to some hopeful developments abroad, including the dedication last October of a commemorative plaque by the city authorities of Amiens at the site of the WWII-era synagogue.”

Stop by Temple anytime during normal business hours to view the exhibit or call ahead to arrange a guided tour for three or more people.

Read more about the exhibit in the Jewish Chronicle. There’s even an article in German that’s mostly based on the Chronicle piece.

The meaning of mitzvot

Thank You Shabbat Five

March 23, 2018/8 Nissan, 5778

Synagogue Sine Qua Non – Volunteers

Rabbi Mark Joel Mahler

This Shabbat is the fifth of nine Shabbats leading up to my retirement that I’m devoting to offering my thanks to different groups of people whom I have served and who have helped me serve our congregation and community over these thirty eight years at Temple Emanuel. This Shabbat in particular, the recipients of my gratitude are so vast that in order to fully express my gratitude I must first offer a forward, followed by an introduction and then a preface.

The forward….

Ever since I announced my retirement come June 30th, people have asked me the natural question, what do I plan to do? I have several items on my retirement agenda, but the answer I offer most often is to get back to writing “my book.”

During my summer sabbatical of 1996, I began writing a book to update the 613 mitzvot of Jewish tradition that begin in the Torah. Given at Mount Sinai, these laws comprised the constitution of ancient Israel and the spiritual and ethical backbone of biblical Judaism. Throughout Jewish history, the 613 mitzvot have been updated as changing times necessitated. Alexander the Great’s conquest and hellenization of ancient Israel created the need for an Oral Law to interpret the Written Law of the Torah. When Rome destroyed the Second Temple and crushed two revolts by Judea, the Oral Law itself was then written down in the Mishnah, followed by the Talmud. Over the ensuing centuries, the 613 mitzvot have been transmitted in various iterations of codes, commentaries, and rabbinic responsa, again as the ups and downs of Jewish history dictated.

I had many good reasons to begin writing in 1996. For one, the most recent Jewish law code, per se, is the Shulchan Aruch, written in 1565. To this day, the Shulchan Aruch remains authoritative among Orthodox Jews. In the 1840s, the authority of the Shulchan Aruch was precisely what the founders of Reform Judaism roundly rejected. With the Holocaust and the creation of the modern state of Israel, Jewish history has changed dramatically in the last seventy-five years alone, how much to more so since 1565 and the 1840s.

When my summer sabbatical concluded in 1996, I had compiled an updated list of 613 mitzvot with biblical citations, along with commentaries on approximately ninety of the mitzvot, and an introduction that clearly described my book’s intentions.

The forward now leads to the introduction.

A central point I make in my book’s introduction answers the question, what exactly is the meaning of the word “mitzvah?” If you asked the average Jew on the street, he or she answer would answer a “good deed” or a “commandment.” Both answers are right, almost.

A mitzvah is more than a “good deed” because it is good not only in and of itself, it is also something that God asks of us. A mitzvah therefore asserts God’s presence here on earth, God’s goodness and caring for humankind. A good deed is certainly good, but a mitzvah is also holy. During these often profane times, when the word “holy” has all but vanished from common parlance, let alone exists as a virtue that people live by, the full meaning of mitzvah is all the more timely and vital.

A mitzvah is also less than a “commandment” as well as something more. A commandment is an edict, a fiat, a decree that must be obeyed, or else! Starting in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the Bible is rife with episodes when people defy God’s decrees.

A mitzvah is what God asks of us, but a mitzvah is something we do out of free will. Thereby keeping a mitzvah is an act of mutual love, reciprocal love, of God’s love for us in giving us the mitzvah and our love for God in doing it. So a mitzvah is something less than a commandment because it lacks the power of a commandment, but it is something more than a commandment because it is motivated not by power and authority but by voluntary love.

My book’s introduction now takes us to the preface for expressing my gratitude this evening.

Toward the conclusion of the Torah, Moses gathered the people before Mount Sinai and said, “You are standing this day, all of you before Adonai your God – your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to waterdrawer – to enter into the covenant of the Eternal your God, which the Eternal your God is concluding with you, to establish you this day as God’s people and be your God, as God promised you and swore to your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I make this covenant not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Eternal our God and with those who are not here this day.”

Just in case you missed it, Moses concluded with a remarkable statement: Moses was speaking not only with those who were there at Mount Sinai but also with those who were not there.

Every rabbi wishes that he or she had Moses’ gift to speak with those who are not here this day. For me this is especially true this Shabbat, when I offer my gratitude to everyone at Temple who has volunteered their time and talent on behalf of our congregation. Who do they include?

They include the twenty-four members of our Board of Trustees, the chair people of our various committees, advisory boards, endowment funds, auxiliaries, along with everyone who has served on them. Yet altogether they are merely part of the many people who offer their time and talent to our congregation.

And what do they do? They sound the shofar, chant Torah, read Haftarah and lead services on the High Holy Days. They lead Shabbat services, Sunday morning minyans, Shiva minyans, Passover Seders and study groups. They sing and play instruments to enhance the beauty of our services and to entertain us at social events. They create educational and social programs, determine policies and practices, set budgets, track finances, sign paychecks. They erect our Sukkahs, decorate them and then take them down. They stuff envelopes with Temple mailings. They cook for our Memorial Day and Labor Day picnics, help with our model Seders and prepare food for meals of condolence for families sitting Shiva. They collect food and life’s necessities for the South Hills Interfaith Movement to distribute to the needy. They feed and shelter people overnight in the Family Promise program once a month. They crochet caps and knit comforters for the sick. They inspect our building to ensure its upkeep. They tend our gardens, as well as our cemetery. They maintain our website. They march here and lobby in Washington for righteous causes. They counsel the bereaved and care for the needs of the ill or the elderly, providing rides and shopping for groceries.

I am certain that I have omitted something, perhaps many things, for which I might apologize. But let me expand the circle of my gratitude to embrace every member of Temple Emanuel today and over these thirty-eight years, in other words to speak not only to those of you are here this evening, but like Moses, to speak to those who are not here as well.

For the truth is that Judaism is a voluntary religion, it always has been and it always will be. Love cannot be commanded. Love can only be freely given. Love can only be freely accepted. Genuine love, above all other things in life, is voluntary.

Especially today, anyone and everyone who belongs to Temple Emanuel, or any house of worship for that matter, is here, or there, voluntarily. Especially today when synagogue affiliation nationally continues to decline – less than one-third of American Jews now belong to a synagogue – the simple act of synagogue affiliation is indisputably a voluntary act.

Indeed one of the 613 mitzvot in my book is “It is a mitzvah to support a synagogue.” So too all of the voluntary acts of our members that I cited previously, from sounding the shofar to shopping for groceries for the ill and the elderly, are among the 613 mitzvot I include in my book. But there are many more mitzvot that could be kept and should be kept, given that the mitzvot in their entirety are the measure by which we Jews live up to being created in God’s image.

I conclude with good news and bad news.

First, the bad news. When I finished writing at the end of my summer sabbatical in 1996, I had written one-hundred thousand words. At five-hundred words per page, that’s two-hundred pages right there, including commentaries for only ninety of the 613 mitzvot. Simple arithmetic said that if I accomplish all that I envision, my book was on the way to being at least a million words and two-thousand pages long. Good luck to me finding a publisher willing to publish a multi-volume edition of a book written by a previously unpublished author!   In 2006, I sat down to edit what I had written. Instead, I quickly wrote another twenty-thousand words. Recognizing that my book was not only a matter of writing words but also wrestling with words, I put the book on the back burner until I retire.

Now, the good news….

It is the nature of the 613 mitzvot that not all of them are intended for every single person. Even when the 613 of the Torah comprised the constitution of biblical Israel, many of the mitzvot applied only to some of the people – for example, only to the kings, or priests or Levites of ancient Israel – while many other mitzvot applied to all of the people – among the many, for example, the Ten Commandments. Nonetheless, any one of us has more than enough mitzvot to do voluntarily, lovingly.

So the better news is that each mitzvah that God gives to us is an act of God’s love for us, and through us for the whole world. Each mitzvah that we keep is an act of our love for God and for the whole world. In a world where too many people are desperate for such love, or doubting and dismissive that such love exists, in a world so close to becoming everything that God created it for, yet so very far, I can’t think of better news. Can you?

Guest post by Rabbi Don

I am honored to be appointed as Temple Emanuel’s Interim Rabbi for this coming year. I can’t tell you – but I think it will show – how much I enjoy the role of Interim Rabbi. I have served as Interim Rabbi for the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, IL and Temple Beth Am in Framingham, MA. I am currently at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, NJ. Temple Emanuel will thus be my fourth interim congregation.

As an Interim Rabbi, my first priority will be to be your Rabbi, there for you, the members, in all the ways a spiritual leader should be, providing all the clergy presence you have come to expect and deserve. During our year together, I, partnering with Rabbi Locketz, will be there for you to celebrate and sanctify the joyous times and to stand with you during the difficult times of illness, heartbreak, and loss. One of my strengths has been the ability to connect with people heart to heart in a relatively short time, which has served me well in officiating at life cycle events for individuals and families whom I have just met. In that regard, I know that the families of youngsters becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah are naturally concerned about a Rabbi whom they do not know working with their children alongside Rabbi Locketz and being part of this most important family life cycle event. One of my first priorities will be to reach out to the Bat/Bar Mitzvah students and create opportunities for us to get to know each other.

An Interim Rabbi is more than a clergy placeholder until you get your next Senior Rabbi. My other mission is to help Temple Emanuel through this year of transition. It will be an important time to regroup after 38 years of Rabbi Mahler’s dedicated leadership, experience what his retirement means for the congregation, to mix continuity with change, and to pursue the search for the Rabbi you believe will best serve your needs and begin with you the next chapter in the life of Temple Emanuel. The fact that Rabbi Mahler has had such a long and energetic tenure at the Temple is a precious blessing. It says a great deal about him, about the Temple, and, most importantly, about the relationship between Rabbi and community. Of course, the blessing of a long-term rabbinate also presents a challenge. What will Temple Emanuel be like without Rabbi Mahler at the helm? How will the Temple change and how will it remain the same? Without Rabbi Mahler, will it still be Temple Emanuel? (Not to give too much away, but the answer is yes.)

In one way or another, Temple Emanuel faces the same challenges that most synagogues and churches face: demographic shifts, financial concerns, a shrinking volunteer base, and a general cultural climate in which “I” over-shadows “we.” But from what I saw and what I learned from speaking with people in and out of the congregation, Temple Emanuel is well-poised to meet these challenges in positive and creative ways. I am looking forward to partnering with President David Weisberg, Rabbi Locketz, Leslie Hoffman, Iris Harlan, and the rest of the dedicated Temple leadership and staff.

Just to be clear, the term of an Interim Clergy is one year. I have no intention of becoming your “settled” Rabbi nor would it be appropriate. My job is to serve the clergy needs of the members for this year and to set up the congregation so that it can find the best clergy fit for its future.

Prior to my interview visit, I had only been to Pittsburgh once for a rabbinic convention. The Pittsburgh area looks to be a wonderful place to live – small enough to be manageable, but large enough in vision to offer a treasure-trove of cultural resources. Fran and I are looking forward to living in the community, making new friends, and taking advantage of all that Pittsburgh offers!