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Ta Shema is the Aramaic phrase for "come and learn," which was used in the Talmud to indicate when the rabbis wanted to dive deeper into a text. Come and learn with me!

Ta Shema: November 26, 2021

Gratitude abounds. On a personal note, I am grateful to have been chosen yet again by the beautiful community that has become my family. It is my honor to have my contract extended until June 2023. It has been an honor and a privilege so far serving you as Rabbi.

We are making baby steps towards normalcy regarding in-person gatherings, as we announced at the annual meeting. Starting December 3rd (Shabbat Hanukkah/Shabanukkah) we will resume kiddish and onegs. Masks will remain in place in services for the time being so that our services can remain as safe as possible while allowing individuals to opt into the unmasked dining spaces afterward. If there is not a spike in Covid cases after Thanksgiving, we will relax mask requirements as of January 1, 2022. We will keep you updated.

We have many exciting events for Hanukkah upcoming, so please follow this link for the full list. I want to highlight our 8th night of Hanukkah party. On December 5th, like the Maccabees, we will have a shul clean-up day of service from 1-4 pm. As we return to using the building to full capacity and congregants and guests start spending time outside of our gorgeous sanctuary, let’s make the rest of our building something to be truly proud of. All abilities will be accommodated—from paper sorters to heavy lifters. At 3:30 pm, our young families will join me outside for a Hanukkah song session. At 4 pm, we will gather together in the social hall for latkes, donuts, gelt, drinks, and perhaps a healthy food item or two. At 5:30 we will light the menorah for the final night of Hanukkah. Please come and make this first Hanukkah party in two years something to remember.

Looking ahead to 2022, let’s take another step towards normalcy and go on a short congregational outing to Myrtle Beach! Violins of Hope, a concert that is played entirely on reclaimed violins, violas, and cellos played by Jews during the Holocaust, will be taking up residence in South Carolina. I am in discussion with the organizers about bringing a group down together to attend this moving concert. The date is April 24 at 4 pm, the Sunday before Yom Hashoah. Please email me if you are interested and a more formal email with information will go out later.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Rabbi Bender

Ta Shema: November 5, 2021

November and Kislev are off to a good start. Last Sunday, we gathered in holy community with members of MCC for our ongoing program “Neighbors in Conversation.” More on that below.

On Tuesday, November 23 at 7 pm we will again gather on Zoom for an interfaith Thanksgiving program. Interfaith programs can be difficult. There are many faiths with conflicting belief systems. In the extreme, some of these belief systems questions the other faith’s rights to exist.

As a Rabbi, I am passionate about and dedicated to deepening interfaith conversations in order to humanize the other, on the one hand, and become friends and partners in community, on the other hand. Getting to know one another casually is the first step in breaking down the walls that divide us and building new communal fences around us.

On Sunday, Rev. McLaughlin and I both shared three basic tenets of our faith. What stood out the most to me was that our third tenant, completely unplanned, was the same—that everything is God, the good and the bad. This highlighted the importance of coming together, to find those moments we are in agreement, so we can build that first fence post of our lasting relationship.

Of course, another reason I engage in interfaith work is simply because we have many people in our congregation in holy relationships with someone of another faith. The division between “us” and “them” breaks down when you look around the room on Shabbat and see the diversity within our own pews. It breaks down when you look around the table at a family gathering. I hope to see many of you at our next Neighbors in Conversation, December 12, 2021.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Please click this link to read the entire article about the "Neighbors In Conversation" event and "BI Baggers in the News."

Ta Shema: October 29, 2021

Believe it or not, Chanukah is coming! This past month of Cheshvan, we had a break from the holidays. As we announce the new month of Kislev this Shabbat, we set our eyes towards those twinkling Chanukah lights. (By the way, this is your reminder to check out the Sisterhood gift shop for all of your Chanukah needs.) 

Chanukah reminds us to be the one to stand up when all hope seems lost. When everyone else searches around the room for that hero to do or say something, Chanukah reminds us to look no further than ourselves. Our voices must be the hammer that smashes through all systems of oppression in our lives and the lives of others. 

As you make your list of holiday gifts to buy and foods to make, also make your list of organizations to give to and causes to raise up. Use your voice as a gift for yourself, your family, and others this upcoming holiday season.

Chodesh Tov and Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Bender

 

Let My Voice be a Hammer 

--Rabbi Rachel Greengrass

 

Mattathias was just a man,

A man who saw that if he did not stand up, no one else would

Judith was just a woman,

Who saw that if she did nothing, her people would be destroyed.

Both refused to give up, both used what little they had, attacked by using cunning, guerrilla warfare.

And so it was that one woman was able to save her town, and one family was able to save our people–

From loss of life–

From loss of spirit–

From forgetting what it means to be Israel

Being Israel means to struggle and fight

Being Israel means standing up when others would push us down

Being Israel means hope in the darkest of times–like a menorah in the window

Being Israel means speaking out against tyranny, against prejudice,

It means letting your voice be the mouth piece of God

Rising above fear

So, God, let my voice be a hammer

Let it break down walls,

Build homes and community,

Strike out against injustice

Let it be a comforting tool for my sisters and those who are weak

Let it smash indifference

Let it ring the eardrums of those who would silence us

Because I am Israel.

I struggle with the divine,

I will not be kept quiet

Let my voice be a hammer

Like Mattathias and Hertzl, like Judith, and Nofrat

 

B'Shalom,

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Bnai Israel Congregation

Website: bnaiisraelilm.shulcloud.com

C. 910-547-7595

Ta Shema: October 8, 2021

Dear Bnai Israel Family,

I am proud to have signed on to the following letter along with so many local interfaith clergy. With the FDA finally approving vaccines for children 5 and older, we are a step closer to out-smarting this virus. As we reread the beginning of the Torah this time of year, we see with new eyes all the ways that our Biblical Ancestors thrived and, more often than not, missed the mark. These stories inspire us to do better. Please share this statement widely with anyone who might be on the fence about the vaccine. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bender


Dear Wilmington area Neighbors,

Grace and peace to you. We are members of Wilmington Faith Leaders United, an interfaith, multi-racial, group of ministerial leaders who seek racial reconciliation, social justice, fellowship, and peacemaking in our community. Though we are of many faiths, there is one common thread that connects all of us: the love and care of our neighbor. That common thread compels us to reach out to you today because our community is in crisis caused by the global pandemic of COVID-19 and its variants.

As faith leaders, we have seen the impact this virus has had on our communities, and how it has altered lives forever. We have buried those who died from COVID. We have seen people lose both parents at the same time to this virus. We have held social distance funerals where loved ones could not be present. We have provided care to those navigating loss of life and/or loss of livelihood. It is devastating, and only by acting together can we make the necessary impact to bring safety and restore wholeness to our community.

We believe that in order to love and care for our neighbor with our full hearts, all who are eligible need to receive the COVID-19 Vaccine and boosters. We do not say “should” or “may,” but need because all our faiths make “love of our neighbor” one, if not the most prominent, display of our faith.

For example:

“Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world”. -Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5; Yerushalmi Talmud 4:9

“Do you not see that God has subjected to your use all things in the heavens and on earth, and has made His bounties flow to you in exceeding measure, seen and unseen?”-Qur’an 31:20

“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”- Luke 10:25-28

This is our moment, and this is our time to live into our shared purpose. This is the place for people of all faiths to put the life of our neighbor first, especially knowing that those most vulnerable neighbors are the children. The way to do this is to get the COVID 19 vaccine, so we can protect ourselves and our entire community.

So, if you have not yet received a vaccination, we plead with you to do so. To find a location to receive your free vaccine, please click here:  https://health.nhcgov.com/coronavirus/covid-19-vaccine/

Getting the vaccine may not only save your life - it will help save your neighbor’s life, as well!

 

  • The Rev. Jonathan Conrad, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Wilmington
  • Rabbi Emily Losben-Ostrov, Temple of Israel
  • Rabbi Chaya Bender, Bnai Israel Congregation
  • The Rev. John McLaughlin, St. Jude's Metropolitan Community Church 
  • Imam Abdul Rahman Shareef
  • The Rev. Dr. Clifford Barnett, Warner Temple AME Zion Church
  • The Rev. Dan Lewis, First Presbyterian Church
  • The Rev. Bill Adams, Fifth Ave United Methodist Church
  • The Rev. Shawn Blackwelder, St. Paul’s Utd Methodist Ch, Carolina Bch
  • The Rev. Tara Lain, Superintendent of the UMC Harbor Conference
  • The Rev. Brad McDowell, First Christian Church of Wilmington
  • The Rev. Cheryl M. Walker, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Wilm
  • The Rev. R. G. Elliott, Rector, St. Andrew’s On-the-Sound Episcopal Ch
  • The Rev. Aaron Doll, Bethany Presbyterian Church
  • The Rev. Dan Keck, Kure Beach Memorial Lutheran Church
  • The Rev. Bill Milholland, Lutheran Church of the Reconciliation
  • Deacon LeRon Montgomery, Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church
  • Rev. Jeff Jones, Covenant Moravian Ch and Water of Life Lutheran
  • The Rev. Dr. Nancy Lee Jose
  • The Rev. Marty Aden, Director of the Spiritual Care Dept at N Hanover RMC
  • The Rev. Michael Megahan, D. Min., Ph.D, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
  • The Rev. Cynthia V. Vaughan
  • The Rev. R. Bayley, Interim Pastor, St Andrews-Covenant Presbyterian Ch
  • The Rev. Bill Cottingham
  • The Rev. Susanne Priddy, Lead Pastor, Wesleyan Chapel UMC
  • The Rev. Emile Harley - Winter Park Presbyterian Church
  • The Rev. Hannah Vaughan, Retired, Presbyterian of Coastal Carolina
  • The Rev. Jason Huebner, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Southport
  • The Rev. Meg McBride, Hope Recovery Community UMC
  • The Rev. C. Eichorn, St. Luke Lutheran Church, Ocean Isle Beach
  • The Rev. Thomas O. Nixon, Senior Pastor St. Stephen A.M.E. Church
  • The Rev. Chuck Davis Jr., On Time Ministries, Incorporated
  • Sr. Rosemary McNamara, SU,UNCW Catholic Student Center
  • The Rev. Jody Greenwood, Church of the Servant Episcopal
  • The Rev. Elder Janyce Jackson Jones, Unity Fellowship Church Movement -Jurisdiction 3

Ta Shema: October 1, 2021

We made it to the end of our fall holidays. There is both a sense of relief and sadness in saying goodbye. This is much like the experience of entering autumn--relief that the heat of summer is fading as well as sadness in seeing it, and the joys of summer, go.

Please enjoy these translated poems and woodcuts for Kadya Molodowsky's poems Cheshvan Autumn Nights, where she captures this moment in time so perfectly. 

Click here for Cheshvan Autumn Nights

Enjoy catching your breath as we take a holiday break until Chanukah.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: September 10, 2021

We did it! We made it through Rosh HaShanah, renewed for a new year. Whether in person, streaming, or a bit of both, 5781 became 5782.

We still heard the sound of the shofar. We still sang out the traditional songs of our holiday, in the sanctuary or on your couch. We still had festive meals, gathered around the dining table with family and friends, a small gathering of just your household, or by yourself with a Sunshine Meal—being held by your community from a distance.

A lot of sacrifices were made this year, and every decision was both a loss and a gain. We had to cancel our Rosh HaShanah dinner. We had to limit seating and restrict attendance to members and vaccinated individuals. Our seats were not able to be filled to allow for social distancing. Many people chose to stream, and we were not able to see their faces or hear their voices. These were losses.

I strongly believe that these losses were outweighed by the gains of keeping our doors open with piece of mind, knowing that the health and safety of our congregation was our priority, and doing our part to reduce the risk of further spreading the virus.

I am done praying for next year to be better. I instead want to experience my gratitude for the present.

I am thankful for this community that has been able to roll with the punches. I am thankful for our staff and volunteers who worked double time to try to arrange honors, seating, and other essential holiday tasks. These tasks are usually daunting, but especially so this year with the ever-changing situation of the Delta variant and individuals going back and forth, for their good reasons, to decide between attending in person versus streaming. I am thankful for every person who showed up and streamed, committing ourselves again to our Bnai Israel family.

As we say goodbye to Rosh HaShanah and hello to Yom Kippur, I offer the following Rosh Hashanah benediction by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat.

Gmar Chatimah Tovah. May we all be sealed in the Book of Life.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Chaya Bender

 

Sonnet for our second

COVID Rosh HaShanah

 

I don't want to reckon with my choices:

feels like that's all we've done for 18 months

(should I mask, is this safe, what if

we meet outside and never breathe together?)

I don't want to query who will live

and who will die, who by wildfire and who

by flooded subway, who intubated and alone

and who will have enough while others lack.

I just want all of us to thrive: our hearts

at ease, our hopes in reach at last.

Come close to me, God. Comfort me with apples.

Remind me the world is born again each year --

even if I'm not ready, even if this year

I'm not sure I know the words to pray.

Ta Shema: August 27, 2021

This Saturday night, we formally begin our sprint towards the High Holidays. As we begin Selichot, we will hear for the first time our familiar High Holiday melodies. For me, these melodies are the passport. They are the permission to get on the plane that will take us away to a new destination, a new year. However, we have to be open to the newness. To be open to newness, we need to be open to really experiencing the loss of the old—the broken heart. This is easier said than done. I invite you to use the poem by Jack Hirschman as spiritual inspiration for this time.

 

Path

Go to your broken heart.

If you think you don’t have one, get one. 

To get one, be sincere.

Learn sincerity of intent by letting

life enter because you’re helpless, really,

to do otherwise.

Even as you try escaping, let it take you

and tear you open

like a letter sent

like a sentence inside

you’ve waited for all your life

though you’ve committed nothing.

Let it send you up.

Let it break you, heart.

Broken-heartedness is the beginning

of all real reception.

The ear of humility hears beyond the gates.

See the gates opening.

Feel your hands going akimbo on your hips,

your mouth opening like a womb

giving birth to your voice for the first time.

Go singing whirling into the glory

of being ecstatically simple.

Write the poem.

 

Please join us Saturday night for a warm-up to Selichot from

8-8:30pm on ZOOM only. Our soloists will be on ZOOM, so this format will highlight their talent in the best possible way. Come hear familiar melodies sung by Kava Notes soloists, Rav, and myself. Afterwards, stick around online to join me and Conservative/Masorti Congregations around the world for “Selihot Night Live” from 8:30 pm-1:00 am! It will be a night of learning not to be missed. After our short service, simply join the Rabbinical Assembly YouTube link here:

 

Click here for Selihot Night Live 2021 - YouTube

 

 

Selichot Learning Schedule

L'Shana Tovah, A Sweet Year

Rabbi Bender

Ta Shema: August 6, 2021

 

"I will say that it is exhausting and disheartening to be back to this level of caution."Last week we announced that we would be recommending mask-wearing again and that we have temporarily stopped serving food after Shabbat services. I will speak for myself when I say it is exhausting and disheartening to be back to this level of caution.

A few weeks ago Emily and I were taking Shlomi regularly to local museums. For now, we are limiting our family time to outdoor adventures only, and we are thankful to live in such a beautiful, outdoor-friendly place. We know science is based on the hypothesis and the evolution of knowledge. As a result of that, masks are back in and indoor spaces are out.

In Sephardic congregations this week, one haftarah and a portion of another are read. It is the third week of consolation when we read from the book of Isaiah chapters 54 and 55. It is also Shabbat Machar HaChodesh—this means that Rosh Chodesh takes places “Machar” or “tomorrow,” meaning the Sunday after Shabbat. Usually, we read the story in 1 Samuel of the intimate relationship between David and Jonathan as they say their goodbyes.

Jonathan’s father, King Saul, despises David, fearing that he will depose him from the throne. Sensing danger, Jonathan told David to hide in the field rather than attend Saul’s Rosh Chodesh feast. In the beginning of the portion, Jonathan says to David, "Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be remembered, for your seat will be vacant.”

This verse hit differently for me this year. For weeks our seats have been filled with people as we relaxed mask requirements and filled our tables with food and laughter. I do know that some of you will choose to return to Zoom attendance since praying with masks on is hard for some people, as well as over the loss of our communal meals.

The Haftarah from Isaiah that we will read in services tomorrow answers back.

“You shall eat choice foods and enjoy the richest delicacies. Incline your ear and come to Me; Hearken and you shall be revived. And I will make you an everlasting covenant, the enduring loyalty promised to David.”

Isaiah reminds us that David, who was once fearing for his life, had the support of a good friend in his lifetime to get him through. He became king and earned the eternal promise of God’s covenant. The eternal promise of David is that we as the Jewish people will thrive.

So too, we see that today is scary, but we are still in this together. The future is bright, but today we are faced with radical uncertainty. Our haftarahs remind us that we can rely on our traditions and teachings to give us strength.

As for food, I hope to see you outside for our cookout Sunday, August 8th where we will fill our tables once more, eat choice foods and enjoy the richest delicacies together.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bender

 

Sat, December 4 2021 30 Kislev 5782