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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!

Click Here for Rabbi Chaya Bender's Bio

Ta Shema: April 25, 2024

"From the narrow place I called out to God who answered me in the great expanse."

We find ourselves in the middle of Passover, halfway to freedom from slavery, halfway to redemption from the narrow place to the great expanse.

All of us are in need of Passover, to help us reach our greatest openness when we are closed off. We continue to pray for our truest freedom to be realized—freedom from Anti Semitism, as well as freedom from oppression just for being Jewish that is experienced worldwide. We pray for peace in our Holy Land, and that all those who pursue peace will experience lasting peace speedily.

"Min Hameitzer karati Yah, va'anani ba'merchavya--From the narrow place I called out to God who answered me in the great expanse. Please God, before the last days of Passover, when we remember the Jews who crossed through the sea on dry land to freedom, may there truly be peace on Earth".

"Min Hameitzar" by Deborah Sacks Mintz with the Hadar Ensemble



Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: March 28, 2024

Purim and Passover relates to the ever-important concept of renewal. Passover occurs in the first month of the year, in the spring season when all of nature is renewing itself. Purim likewise has an aspect of newness due to the fact that it is a holiday established by the Sages of the time, and in fact, was the first Rabbinic holiday added to the Jewish calendar. It took courageous and visionary insight to establish an entirely new holiday not originally included in the Torah. Passover allows us to reenact our newly found freedom.

Here at Bnai Israel we had our new version of Purim, one that combined the element of people of all ages and stages, which resulted in a fantastic, inter-generational extravaganza.

There are so many people to thank. So many, that it would be a large portion of our community.

Thank you to:

  • Nancy Kraselsky for the creative and eye catching marketing campaign
  • Linda Hanna for fearlessly holding down the fort in the office and balancing your many duties as well as managing this multifaceted program
  • Barry Weiss, Laurel Westreich, and their full team of cooks for our amazing Green Eggs and Hamantaschen Breakfast 
  • Rena Goldwasser, Chief Baker Garison Kaufman, Joelle Serot and all of the Hamantaschen bakers
  • Carolyn Moskowitz and all of your Mishloach Manot helpers
  • Liz Berger and the incredible Carnival Team of BIC and TOI helpers
  • Laurel Westreich, Yves Sion, Shai Abisch, Liz Berger, and Jon Berger and many, many more people for being our set up and break down crew
  • Sisterhood and Men’s Club for sponsoring and purchasing the supplies for our Hamantaschen and Mishloach Manot
  • Everyone who sent Mishloach Manot to the congregation and purchased extra Hamantaschen
  • Emily Jaeger, Jon Berger, and Norman Schain for beautifully chanting Megillah
  • To all who attended!

We transition now to Passover where all of our hard work during Purim will come to fruition. During Passover, we say that each and every person must believe that they themselves had left Egypt. From this we learn that each one of us matters in our community. We saw this Purim how crucial each and every detail can be. Let’s use this as a benchmark for all of our programs–that each one can be even more open and inviting then we imagined.

You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting,

So… get on your way! 

Passover is coming,



Shabbat Shalom,

Pam Sender, President

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: March 1, 2024

Outshine Darkness With Light


I am still buzzing from the excitement that the Sisterhood Art Show brought to Bnai Israel once again. A hearty mazel tov to Alane Savod and all of Sisterhood, including the many sponsors, donors, and volunteers. Every detail was perfect!

Since this has become an annual tradition, I have come to be much more familiar with the movers and shakers of the local art scene. I have come to notice the changes in style that an artist makes from year to year as they continue to expand their voice and breadth of work. This year, I was particularly moved and impressed by how many people outside of our synagogue have come to know about, love, and look forward to the show.

I have the privilege of seeing the show for almost a week between setup and take down. During this time, I become very attached to the pieces and tend to associate different works of art with different congregants based on what I know about your interests and personal style. Like a Purim costume, I think about how a piece of art might highlight or unmask something about you. I am proud to say that some of you even picked out pieces I had thought of for you!

According to the Talmud, the Exile of the Jews was compared to night and the story of Purim was compared to day. The Exile of our people is represented by night, the great unknown. Since the Jewish people were exiled from the Holy Land until today, we do not know when our people will no longer be subjected to cruelty from those who would seek our oppression and destruction. Purim is the light, when all darkness in our lives will be outshined and banished, and the inner beauty will be brought to light. 

Every Purim, we get another chance to outshine darkness with light. We can do that through the four mitzvot of Purim, all of which you can do through the synagogue: Mishloach Manot, hearing megillah, having a meal, and giving gifts to the needy. You can outshine the darkness with brilliant light through dressing up: Releasing your hidden beauty at our masquerade shabbat service and showing your hidden whimsy with a Purim costume on Purim day.

I will also celebrate Purim a little early this year by hanging up my new art from the art show, a gorgeous piece by Barton Hatcher that reminds us of the promise of spring. When we look at that piece all year long, we will be reminded that even during the darkest and coldest months, spring and light is just around the corner. Purim, too, reminds us that spring, that Passover, the rebirth of spring and holiday of our freedom, is close by.

An Early Freilichen Purim to All! Let’s again do our best to combat any darkness that might exist in this world with brilliant, focused light.



Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: February 1, 2024

What is the meaning of Purim?

I know I am supposed to say that “everything is topsy turvy”, but I think the message is much more nuanced and profound than that. I believe Purim captures perfectly the complexity of human interactions.

Nothing is as it seems but everything is exactly as it seems. 

Everything is one thing and its opposite, and both things are true, or at least are someone’s lived perception. 

In every interaction, there is how I interpreted what happened and most likely there is someone else who walked away from that exact same interaction with the opposite thoughts or experience.

Think of a first date–one person walks away thinking–wow, this person could be the one. The other walks away thinking–I couldn’t have ended this date fast enough and I will immediately block their number.

Purim captures that moment perfectly.

Is it a story of the triumph of the Jewish people or a story of a people stuck in the diaspora and just trying to stay alive?

Is it a story of the heroism of Mordechai and Esther in the face of great evil, or is it a farcical comedy with strawman plot points and over the top characters and plots meant as a balm for the Jewish diaspora?

I believe the answer is yes.

Nothing is as it seems but everything is exactly as it seems. Everything is one thing AND ALSO its opposite.

We have so many exciting things happening for Purim. Look no further than our website and email blasts–Mishloach Manot, Hamentaschen, and our Seussical Purim Party and Carnival will be attended by the Who’s Who of Whoville.

In preparation for all of that–I would encourage everyone this year to REALLY read the story, in advance of the Megillah reading. The Megillah reading, often as part of the carnival aspect of Purim, is done quickly and with a lot of noise interruption. I know personally, I can’t read anything meaningfully that way. 

Read the story slowly and intentionally at home. Pay attention to the small details, the side conversations, who is talking to whom, who is making the decisions that push the plot forward. 

You will realize that not everything is as simple as our interpretive Purim Shpiels would have us believe.

Then when you go to the Megillah readings, follow the narrative arc of one character. If you go to more than one Megillah reading, follow another. Just for fun, follow the characters that might seem like throw-aways. You will see the story completely transform in front of your eyes as you enter the world of that character. And you will quickly learn that there is no such thing as a throw away character in the book of Esther.

For instance, did you know that King Achashversosh was an amoral genius and in no way a blundering buffoon? Read the story again and think of the way he, like Don Corleone, orchestrated everything perfectly behind the scenes without getting his hands dirty.

Remember: Nothing is as it seems but everything is exactly as it seems. Everything is one thing AND ALSO its opposite.

This Purim, pay attention to the little details, the little guys, the things that no one pays attention to. You might learn that those things are what held everything together the entire time.

Happy Early Purim to everyone–may it open your eyes to what has been in front of you all along.



Rabbi Bender

Ta Shema: December 29, 2023

Many of us just celebrated one of the most anticipated Jewish holidays last week–Yom Chinese Food and Movies. It is the perfect combination of good food and family time without the heavy work of repentance or cleaning a house top to bottom to make it hametz free. The tradition to eat Chinese food on Christmas has a fascinating history and is over 100 years old. Read more here:

Yom Chinese Food and Movies is a stark contrast to a much older Jewish celebration on Christmas Eve, know as Nittel Nacht:

In summary, for centuries, Ashkenazi Jews forbade the study of Torah on Christmas Eve–stemming from very real fears of living in lands unfriendly to Jews. The only other night of the year that Torah study is forbidden is Tisha B’Av. Nittel Nacht is a non-holiday of isolationism. Yom Chinese Food and Movies is a celebration of relationship and integration.

What I love about the Chinese food tradition is how playful it is. Many articles, like this below, play with the idea of eating Chinese food in the same legalistic manner in which all Jewish laws are derived:

The basis behind humorous articles like this one is that it shows the intricate ways the Jewish people have become integrated into the greater narrative. How over the last 100 years we have integrated into a society and thrived while maintaining our unique characteristics. How we can be both proudly interfaith friendly and proudly Jewish. 

The culmination of the last 100 years has not only brought us delicious traditions, but it has brought us Amy DeLoach. Her family has been here for the last 100 years in Wilmington, and her journey to presidency very much mirrors the above transition from the isolationism of the last century to full inclusion. 

Amy’s presidency at its core was one about honoring the legacy and rich history of our synagogue while gently giving it a tune up. She first started with our cemetery. Our cemetery has been given a much needed makeover in two ways–it has been beautified, as well as been opened up ritually to include our interfaith families in the new Memorial Park. Our Jewish members with interfaith families now have the option to be interred next to each other, which would not have been thinkable 100 years ago in a Jewish cemetery. 

It was fate that during her presidency we celebrated two major milestones–the Celebration-Installation-Dedication weekend and our 125th Anniversary weekend. Both had similar themes of being grateful for all of the blood, sweat, and tears that went in to help us reach this point while also recognizing that the wonderful things we have now are a natural continuation of the past. 

Finally, in Amy we had the gift of having a president with a beautiful interfaith family. Thank you to First Gentleman Mark DeLoach for lending us your wife for more hours in the day than you probably saw her! When families were looking for a welcoming synagogue, especially those from Conservative backgrounds who had been turned away in the past, got on the phone with Amy, they would know they would be family here. In Amy, we had a president who was deeply integrated into all that Wilmington had to offer, and everyone in town knows she is fiercely proud to be Jewish. She lives by example that you can be both proudly interfaith and proudly Jewish. Thanks to Amy, generations of congregants with interfaith families won’t have to make impossible choices–to affiliate with a synagogue or not, to be buried together or not. As the Open Doors Project has shown us time and time again, being more inclusive only can serve to make a warmer and more vibrant synagogue for all. 

Amy, thank you for everything. It has truly been a pleasure to walk alongside you and make this synagogue a home for all. At the same time, I am excited for what the future will bring, knowing we will be in excellent hands with Pam Sender.

May it be another year of continuing our legacy of growing into our greatest potential, L’Dor Va’Dor. And hey, it wouldn’t hurt to order some New Year's Eve Chinese Food as well.


Happy 2024, Y’all! 

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: December 1, 2023

Publicize the Miracle–Banish the Darkness

Did you know that there are a lot of rules around lighting the Hanukkiah? One is supposed to light the candle in a way that would make it most seen–ideally outside or easily seen from the street and during the time when masses of people are returning home from their work or a day out. As the sun is setting, the little candles are setting off their own light into the darkness–banishing it, if only for a little while.

On Hanukkah, we publicize the miracle–both the miracle of the oil, as well as the miracle of the victory of the Jews against the large enemy army that sought to destroy us. This Hanukkah, we are all too familiar with war–both the ongoing hostilities in Israel as well as the 400% rise of antisemitism here at home. This has been a trying and exhausting time for us. I hope that Hanukkah will be a time that we can all recharge our spiritual batteries, just as the holiday was designed to do.

There are many ways to publicize the miracle. One way is to continue to spread light on social media. is starting a #BeAMaccabee campaign. You can share moments of your own Jewish pride on social media with that hashtag, or click the link below to submit a short story of your Jewish pride that might be featured on their website:

You can also light up social media by continuing to share material from the Social Media Toolkit from the March for Israel, including the image from our Wilmington Delegation. It was a true labor of love to get our delegation there, and private thank yous will be sent to our angels who made that happen. We learned that day that when Jews stand together against antisemitism, they do so with love of America, dignity for all those impacted by the ongoing way, Jewish Pride, and steadfast support of Israel. You can find images and quotes to share on social media here:

This Hanukkah, do not let the darkness banish our light. Please register for our many Hanukkah events listed in the newsletter and our website. And please, display your menorah proudly and put up some decorations. My house has four inflatable Hanukkah bears, twinkly outdoor menorah lights, a dreidel laser light, and festive signs with holiday symbols. See for yourself! It has become the highlight of Shlomi’s evening to see the ridiculous bears inflate. If you are too afraid to do so at your house, you can drive by my house nightly! It is my honor to do my part to add some light, and a healthy dose of humor, to banish the darkness.

As is best said in a traditional Israeli song for the season:

Banu choshech legaresh, beyadeinu or va'esh.
Kol echad hu or katan, vechulanu or eitan.

Surah choshech, hal'ah sh'chor! Surah mipnei ha'or!

We came to drive away the darkness in our hands is light and fire. 

Everyone's a small light, and all of us are a firm light.

Fight darkness, further blackness! Fight because of the light!





Shabbat Shalom and Hag Urim Sameah (Happy Festival of Lights),

Rabbi Bender

Support for Israel: October 10, 2023

מֵחֲמַ֛ס אָחִ֥יךָ יַעֲקֹ֖ב תְּכַסְּךָ֣ בוּשָׁ֑ה וְנִכְרַ֖תָּ לְעוֹלָֽם׃

For the violence to your brother Jacob,

Disgrace shall engulf you,

And you shall perish forever.

(Ovadiah 1-10)


The above verse is from the book of Ovadiah and uses the word "Hamas" in context to highlight the violent actions of the nation of Edom to destroy Israel. Hamas in Hebrew means violence. The kind of violence so terrible that God dares not mention it in full and rather encapsulates it into one word.

Hamas in Hebrew means violence. The kind of violence so terrible that God dares not mention it in full and rather encapsulates it into one word.

Hamas is a terrorist organization with one goal–to see the Jewish people eradicated. They are transparent about their mission and have written and published their mission for all to see. What is happening now in Israel is atrocious and the work of people bent on doing evil, to the people of Israel as well as the people of Gaza. 

Like many of you, I have been endlessly scrolling through my phone and the news to see what is happening. But this is even more personal. I have seen Emily’s cousin sending four of her children off to fight. I have read about my Israeli friend in America praying for her loved ones in Israel to be returned home after being taken hostage by Hamas into the tunnels in Gaza. I have read about my friend who, after hearing bombs and sirens, dropped her baby on the ground in order to run to lock the door of the shelter so that her two children might not be among the statistics of kidnapped or murdered children.

This is personal. This is our family.

Our people have seen the most Jewish lives brutally murdered since the Holocaust ended. At the time of writing this, and I hope something changes by the time you read it, there is no clear end in sight.

We might feel helpless, but there are some things we can do:

  1. Stay Informed: Follow the news and take it all with a grain of salt with the understanding that truly unbiased reporting is hard to find. If you haven’t already, try following The Times of Israel.
  2. Show up for Israel: Within your capacity show up for Shabbat, vigils, events, online briefings, Israel Dance Club, whatever you can to show that we will not hide or back down in the face of terror. 
  3. Spread Awareness: I realize that online campaigns sometimes seem silly, but we need to show the real face of Israel to the world. Thank God, many countries around the world are lighting up Blue and White for Israel. At the same time, yesterday that was a large orchestrated show of support of anti-Israel sentiment, especially on college campuses. People are not taking the time to see the ‘’incredibly delicate nuances of the situation, to read the situation kindly, or are celebrating the atrocities happening to innocent Israeli citizens, to read it more bluntly. Post pictures. Share stories from Israel of the bereaved or those anxiously waiting for news of their kidnapped loved one. Use these real human stories to help change even one heart.
  4. Donate: The Rabbinical Assembly posted this JFN's List of Trusted Agencies and Nonprofits. On it are many vetted organizations who will send funds to where they need to be in Israel.
  5. Volunteer: Israelis are asking for different kinds of support, even from afar. Yesterday I came upon this form to Volunteer to offer mental health support to Israelis in need. If that applies to your skill set, you can register there.
  6. Pray: Prayer for the Simchat Torah War, Prayer for Israel in this Time of War.
  7. Take Care of Yourself: Drink water. Eat food that fuels your body. Rest. We can be the best support from afar if we take care of our bodies first.
  8. Reach Out: My office is always open. I love you and we will go through this together.


May we see the day when war and bloodshed cease and humanity will never again know war. I pray that the war in Israel ends as swiftly and peacefully as possible, that the hostages are released, that soldiers can return to their homes, and that Hamas is eradicated so that both Israelis and the citizens of Gaza do not have to live under a shadow of terror.


I pray for Shalom,

Rabbi Bender

Ta Shema: September 28, 2023


Rabbi Bender is sharing her sermons from High Holidays 5784.  Click here to view these wonderful lessons.

(NOTE:  All sermons will be added shortly - Please check back next week for all sermons)






Erev Rosh Hashana Sermon - Do Not Give Up on the Possibilities of the Future

Ta Shema: September 1, 2023

125 Years of Bnai Israel: Past, Present, and Future


It's beginning to look a lot like the High Holidays are here! All Holiday information has been sent out, including seat registration, and RSVPs for all Holiday related events. Please look over everything thoroughly, as you are not going to want to miss out on the myriad of ways to celebrate the holidays together, both in and out of the synagogue building.

Hebrew School is about to kick off on September 10th and if last Sunday's Tot event was any indication, both our learners and our parents are excited to begin the new year. For more information about High Holidays or Hebrew School visit the website or call the office.

On Kol Nidre this year, I will be reflecting on our 125 year history, our vibrant present, and thinking forward to the future. But I need your help! I would love for members to share their personal stories with me. I will be sharing some of your reflections as part of my sermon. You can submit stories anonymously if you feel more comfortable sharing that way. Please help me by sharing your memories, present points of connect, as well as your hopes for the future here:

As for me, my earliest memory of Bnai Israel is my first 15-minute call with the search committee and just having a gut feeling that "this is it." My present favorite point of connection is seeing the way my daughter feels so safe and at home in the synagogue and thinks of every person at Kiddush as her best friend. My hope is that everyone feels that safe and connected here, that everyone is a friend or a potential friend.

May this be a year where we all seek together. May we seek to honor the past and the many people that enabled us to be here, sometimes against all odds. May we seek out ways to continue to grow in the here and now. Finally, may we seek to never be closed off from something new—to be surprised by what might happen if we may only be open to the possibility. 

L'shana Tova U'metuka, A Sweet New Year filled with the unlimited potential of you,


Rabbi Chaya Bender

by Cathy Cohen

When young, I couldn’t reach you
through language.

I felt distant
from your prayer book names
steeped in punishment,
in law and judgment.

Instead, I sought you
in the quiet of the sanctuary,
in chanting,
in families shoulder to shoulder.

I sought you in vowels,
in silent pause between words,
in breath.

Eheyeh asher eheyeh
with the possible.

Eheyeh asher eheyeh
of openness, forgiveness.

a sense of your essence.

Ta Shema: July 27, 2023

Grow Around Grief

Tisha B’Av is a hard day. It’s both taxing spiritually and physically as well as a hard day to connect to in modernity. I also think when commemorated properly and contextualized, it might be the day we need the most. Mourning rituals when we, God forbid, lose someone are important to begin the process of figuring out what life looks like after loss. But after we lose someone, logistics are the farthest thing on our mind. Tisha B’Av allows a place on the calendar to grieve whatever it is we need to grieve without distractions. It’s the cathartic cry that we need for the ongoing maintenance of our grief processing. As I often say: Grief does not lessen over time—we learn to grow around our grief. A few times a year, it is not only healthy but necessary to let grief come to the fore so that we can tend to it, and in doing so tend to ourselves. 

This month has highlighted in our community what it means grow around grief. Not only to grow, but to flourish. 

During what is considered the saddest part of the Hebrew calendar due to Tisha B’Av, we have had two baby namings and a Bar Mitzvah. The Israeli Scouts came back for the first time in three years and the social hall was filled with the most people we have had attend an event in our building since before the pandemic. It reminds me of the beautiful flowers I used to see growing out of the cracks in the sidewalk in New York City. No matter what, life always finds a way. 

May we tend to the cracks so that we may especially appreciate the flowers.


Rabbi Chaya Bender

Click here to read more about Tisha B'Av

Ta Shema: June 29, 2023

To Remind You of What You Already Know

Has anyone ever found a note that you wrote to yourself but you have no earthly idea what you were trying to remember? It’s not an uncommon phenomenon to forget information that you would rather have at the front of your brain. 

Earlier in June, the Torah portion hints at this problem, and the rabbinic tradition suggests a remarkable reason for such frustrating lapses of memory. In our portion, Moses “told the people of Israel that they should keep the Passover.” Nothing surprising here, Moses often tells the Jewish people what they should or should not be doing.

But in the book of Leviticus, just one book ago and not very long ago in Biblical real time, Moses taught us all about Passover. So why does he have to repeat himself now?

Because he knows just how forgetful people can be. Recognizing that even the most intelligent, learned, and scholarly people forget much of what they learn, Moses knew that the Jews would have to be reminded of the appropriate mitzvot just before the time of their observance—and the people in the book of Number now are gearing up to celebrate the holiday of Passover in real time. 

Keen student of the human heart that he was, Moses knew that learning is ever renewed, or it is lost. Learning is not a possession, something to have. It is a process of growth and ingestion that is a permanent accompaniment to human life. 

Midrash Kohelet Rabbah understood that point, insisting that, “It is for our own good that we learn Torah and forget it; because if we studied Torah and never forgot it, the people would struggle with learning it for two or three years, resume ordinary work, and never pay further attention to it. But since we study Torah and forget it, we don’t abandon its study.”

In other words, forgetting is a point of connection. When we forget we have the chance to remember and forge newer connections. 

At the semi annual meeting we tried to be like Moses—to remind you of what you already know. That we are a growing and vibrant congregation. That we serve congregants ages 0-99 (with a few God willing turning 100 this year). We have so much going on, and sometimes too much going on, that you might not even know it’s happening or in the busyness of your own life you forgot. 

We reminded the congregation of who we are and what we stand for. Our hope is to spark new points of interest, connection, or reconnection for you. 

The Mishnah teaches us that Jews in study together experience the presence of God. So let us continue to learn together as well as commit to a new holy point of connection between now and our next meeting.


Rabbi Chaya Bender 

Ta Shema: June 1, 2023

Building Trust

(Based on the weekly Haftarah Portion, June 3rd 2023, Judges 13:2-25)

How do we build trust?

How do we compromise in order to maintain trust?

How do we rebuild trust when it has been broken? 

Trust is what happens when the person you are in a relationship with becomes predictable to you.

The most basic trust is developed between a baby and its caregivers. Without even having the capacity to understand the interaction, a baby feels the predictable routine of its caregivers. 

I will be fed. 

I will be warm. 

I will be loved.

Trust is developed between friends when they realize that the other will reliably respond to the other's attempts at connection. 

When one reaches out to the other for support, that need will be mutually and reliably met.

Of course, trust is the foundation of the relationship between loving partners. Trust enables partners to commit to each other and become even more vulnerable in order to deepen relationships.

This week in services, we read the incredible story of the birth of Samson, one of the judges of Israel. 

The story of Samson is paired with Numbers 4:21-7:89 which talks about two very different types of people. 

The first in Hebrew is called Sotah, the wayward wife, a woman who is sent to trial, accused of breaking her oath of marriage to her husband, but there were no witnesses to the supposed violation of trust. 

The second is called Nazir, the nazarite, they set themselves apart from society, not imbibing in any alcohol or even grape products, not cutting their hair, and not defiling themselves in any way, going even to the extreme of not being present when their immediate family is buried.

The ancient rabbis teach that these two stories were placed next to each other to serve as a foil for one another. Perhaps wine could get you into a bad situation, so completely avoiding it will keep you on the straight and narrow. The artistry of placing the Samson story in communication with the section from Numbers is that it adds an element of compromise.

The compromise is: trust.

Samson’s mother, known only as the wife of Manoah, is a barren woman. She was barren until she was visited alone twice by an angel in a field, telling her that she would have a child. 

If the story were told by my Grandmother it might have looked like this: “You know that Mrs. Manoah, the one who’s barren? Guess what, she’s pregnant! But did you hear her story? She was out in the field, and an angel came to her. Poor Manoah. He’s so clueless.”

If Manoah didn’t believe his wife’s story, nobody would have held it against him. In fact, this case would have been a great example of the wayward wife, a woman accused of breaking her oath of marriage to her husband, but there were no witnesses.  But Manoah did not take his wife to trial and their relationship did not need to be repaired, because they had trust.

The rabbis, in their usual fashion, thought that this story was too neat. In rabbinic literature, they composed a back story to what is found in the book of Judges.

We know that the angel visited Mrs. Manoah because she was barren, but the book of Judges does not go into detail at all about what living with infertility was like for the Manoah family. According to the rabbinic imagination, it was very hard on the couple and caused a lot of marital strife with one blaming the other as the cause.

The painful struggle of the Manoah family that the rabbis expose us to is the place where the boundaries of trust and vulnerability are tested. The angel then acts as an agent of faith.

Mrs. Manoah is visited by the angel who gives her the good news. She tells her husband who so desperately wanted to believe her but didn’t yet trust. He pleads to God to have the angel visit him as well—he prays for the ability to be able to trust again. The angel does not visit him, however, instead the angel again visits his wife. This time, she runs to her husband, takes him by the hand, and says, take a leap of faith with me. Trust me. Be vulnerable with me.

He follows her to the field where the angel is, and this time he is able to be vulnerable. They rebuild their trust and deepen their relationship.The child wasn’t the solution but rather the angel. Instead of being alone they are able to walk into a new situation together, stronger than before.

Relationships depend on realizing that the act of extending the hand and the act of taking that hand are both radical and vulnerable acts. This can be experienced in unearthly experiences like the above story. This can also be experienced in the large and small interpersonal interactions we have on a daily basis. 

This is the first time (but not the last time) I will say this in 2023–as the calendar turns to June, we begin our march towards the High Holidays. In what ways are you going to be more vulnerable this year? How can I support you and offer you a hand in this new space of exploration? How can BIC be that intermediary to shake you out of the cycle of the known to step into the unknown? Let’s begin these conversations now and let it be the foundation of an exciting 5784.

May we all be blessed with both God’s outstretched arm–a hand that can extend outwardly to help another, as well as the bravery to extend a hand for others to take so that we can be supported. 


Rabbi Chaya Bender


Ta Shema: April 27, 2023

75 years. It’s hard to believe that our timeless Holy Land can be so young in the eyes of modernity. This past weekend, we celebrated the miracle, the blessing, the homeland, and the ongoing project of Israel. Thank you to TOI, UJA, Wilmington Jewish Film Festival, and PJ Library for dreaming and planning along together as a team. Approximately 200 people from across Jewish Wilmington united together to celebrate our pride in Israel. 

After the Yom Haatzmaut event, the WJFF kicked off with a haunting film about righteous (and unrighteous) gentiles who hid a man during the Holocaust. The festival is ongoing but Yasher Koach to Debbie Smith, her executive committee, and the many volunteers who make the festival a success. 

It is impossible to not link one historical event to the other; that is the Holocaust to the founding of the modern State of Israel. By experiencing both poles on Sunday, it solidified for me the importance of community and celebrating when we can. 

We are linked to all that came before us and all who will come after. We remember and mourn for those who have passed, as well as celebrate for those who can no longer. We bridge our fears with our joys so that our joys will always carry us through when times are hard. 

Below is a prayer that captures the complicated ways we remember and celebrate—that our very existence is a miracle and something won by our own hands. 

May we continue to come together as a greater Jewish Wilmington community and family for these milestone celebrations and always. 

May there soon be peace in our Holy Land and worldwide. 

Prayer for Israel between Demise and Rebirth

by Rabbi Daniel Raphael Silverstein

May we remember that our faces are mirrors of each other, our fears are mirrors of each other’s, our hopes are mirrors of each other’s, and all of our children will inherit everything we are.

May we remember our shared past, our shared ancestors, our shared heritage, our shared grief at the destruction of our home twice before, our shared journeys through millennia of exile, our shared pride in who we are and all that we have achieved, wherever we found ourselves, and now here.

May we remember that our being here is something no human can explain or understand.

May we remember that we are responsible to those who came before us and those who come after us.

May we remember that it is very, very easy to destroy, but infinitely harder to build.

May we remember that there is no future for any of us without all of us.



Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: March 29, 2023

We have a lot to be grateful for. We’ve been extremely busy at the synagogue since our last Newsletter with many major and successful events. 

The Board wants to thank Sisterhood, Alane Savod, and her team of numerous volunteers not only for their hard work and beautiful presentation of Art but for the very generous donation made to the synagogue. We are thankful for the positive communal impact the Art Show made, bringing in attendees not only from Jewish community, but from the community at large. We are excited to see how this annual event grows each year, and for it to become a yearly staple among Wilmington art enthusiasts. 

The Board also wants to thank Rena Goldwasser and her team of numerous volunteers of close to 20 people for baking, filling orders, making the Mishloach Manot hats, and generally spreading around Purim holiday cheer. The fundraiser was a success with a final number forthcoming. We hope everyone enjoyed their delicious (as always) cookies as well as the beautiful Mishloach Manot hats.

The Purim Carnival was a huge success with close to 150 kids and adults there from BIC and TOI. Thank you to Liz Berger and the rest of the carnival team for all of their work planning, setting up, running booths, and cleaning up. We can’t wait to see this grow year after year. The costumes, food, bouncy castle, and games were enjoyed by children of all ages.

Purim night was a lot of fun filled with skits, songs, and grogger-ing. Many talents were exposed from our congregants and celebrating Esther’s heroism has never been done so well. Looking ahead at the calendar, next year Purim is over the weekend, so stay tuned for that!

Finally, thank you to Trish McLean for her countless hours making sure this all came off smoothly. Your whimsical design of the Mishloach Manot hats and table decorations were creative, fun, and required a lot of work when offices were closed. You are a very treasured member of our team and we can not thank you enough.

See you at shul and all of the upcoming Passover events. Do not forget to RSVP for them ASAP and to let us or the office know if you have any questions.



Amy DeLoach, President 

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: February 24, 2023

It's Spring Y'all

A couple of weeks ago it was a chilly, overcast, rainy, 70 degree day. I only had eyes for the weather being a high of 70. I declared it spring!

Emily, Shlomi, and I were getting ready to go to Pender Pines Garden Center, so I got dressed in hopeful springtime clothes. Emily and Shlomi were in more reasonable and weather appropriate long pants and jackets, but I was in shorts and a t-shirt. When Emily asked me what was wrong with me, my only answer was, “I declare that it’s spring!”

At Pender Pines I purchased spring-y front porch decorations–a sign with sunflowers and a sea turtle wind mobile. As the weather continues to waffle back and forth between lovely and too cold, I feel I am doing my part to help spring along.

This time of the year, the Jewish calendar tip-toes towards spring. Around Tu Bishvat in Israel, as well as in our climate, we start to see the first buds of spring, even if the ground still frosts from time to time. It is the strength we need to keep moving forward towards the new life that is just around the corner. 

Now, we are gearing up for Purim. This holiday is the spiritual equivalent of putting on shorts a little too early and surrounding yourself with decorations that are more aspirations. As we dress in costume, we do not hide ourselves, but rather we realize our full selves. As we dress up, we actually take off our invisible masks that we wear every day when we hold ourselves back. This is the final refuel of strength we need for the main event.


But one thing at a time! We aren’t quite there yet.

Today we declare it spring. In one month, it will be spring. And both of these are important to the process.

When we declare it spring, we actively open ourselves to be able to receive spring when it comes. We engage in a relationship with all that spring has in store for us. Yes, spring comes with the “great pollening” but it is worth it for the freedom to be outside, on the beach, and making our friends with snow still in their backyards jealous.

Judaism is a relational religion. It can not exist in a vacuum, and does not feel the same in isolation. The Jewish calendar keeps moving forward, and we can’t control that. But we can control how we interact with it. Passover is exactly one month after Purim, which is one month after Tu Bishvat. They are the big, medium, and large steps laid in front of us to take towards freedom each year. Yes, you can mark the passing of time with these holidays by yourself, but I encourage all of you to take these steps together with your community.

Use Purim this year as your practice round for Passover. Use your costume to feel more free and partake in the many activities and fundraisers surrounding Purim to connect with yourself and others. 

Let’s declare it’s spring together! Because before you know it, ready or not, Passover will be here. I, for one, am already excited.


B’Shalom and Hag Purim Sameach (Happy Purim),

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: January 27, 2023

This is Our Year!

On January 14, we had our first ever Saturday morning Sisterhood Shabbat Service. Over 30 women and teens helped to lead us in prayer, word, chanting, and song. Every single role was filled by a woman, either leading for the first time or in a role they have done many times over. Subsequently, I have had a number of women approach me to learn about how to participate in the event next year or to attain an adult Bat Mitzvah. I am not just proud of these women and teens–I am in awe. 

When I see Jewish women take hold of their Judaism, especially for the first time, my heart always aches a little as I recall memories of my Bubba, Miriam, of blessed memory. She did not have the same opportunities that I did growing up, yet she was the strongest advocate when it came to my secular and Jewish education. While she never had the opportunity to go to college, she was the one who took me to the library weekly as a young girl, helped me get my first library card, and introduced me to books that were above my reading level, always pushing me to learn and grow.

She took me to Shabbat services and sat with me in the back row, her weekly seat, and wouldn’t let me leave until after she had schmoozed with everyone at Kiddush. She was active in Sisterhood as well as any Jewish organization that would allow her to serve. When the synagogue she helped to found finally allowed women to have full participation, she had an adult Bat Mitzvah at the age of 47.

She died far too young and never saw her granddaughter go to rabbinical school; something I am sure would have made her overjoyed. Today there are many young men and women who are growing up in a world where everyone in the pew has an equal opportunity to be on the Bima. My daughter’s Hebrew School class might one day ask me the question I have been asked before by preschool aged kids, “Rabbi Bender, can men be rabbis, too”?

This is our year! This year, let’s appreciate our roots, celebrate who we are, and challenge ourselves to keep moving forward. The inaugural annual Saturday Morning Sisterhood Shabbat Service is just one of the ways we are marking the 125th year of our synagogue’s history. Please reach out to Amy or myself if you would like to be a part of the 125th Year Celebration Planning Committee. I cannot wait to continue to celebrate with y’all.



Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: December 2, 2022

Hanukkah, The Second Neilah

On Yom Kippur, we spend the day contemplating.

What was the past year for me?

What does the future hold?

Will I ever have the chance to live to my fullest potential?

The day culminates in the Neilah prayer. During Neilah, we imagine the gates closing as we ramp up our final prayers. The hope is that all of our prayers can break their way through before the gates close for the year.

But the gates never truly close, at least not until Hanukkah.

The gates remain open through Shemini Atzeret, when we pray for rain in its proper time in Israel. We ask for God to send rain:

"To be for a blessing and not a curse.

For life and not for death.

For abundance not for famine."

In other words, as the gates of prayer remain open through the end of the High Holiday season, we pray for quality of life and not only to live.

While the High Holidays have been over for a while now, the gates of prayer, the gates of repentance, remain open still, if only a crack. And as Leonard Cohen wrote, There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in. In this case, the light of the fully lit Menorah on the 8th day of Hanukkah.

The Maccabees were too busy fighting for their religious freedom during the holiday of Sukkot, so when they won and rededicated the Temple, they celebrated a makeup festival. According to Hasidic views, the eight days of Hanukkah parallel the seven plus one day of Sukkot, and the eighth day of Hanukkah therefore parallels Shemini Atzeret. Hanukkah, therefore, was the holiday that allowed the Jews to press the giant reset button, to begin again, on their religious lives.

The eight days of Hanukkah allowed for the Maccabees to reinstate three important mitzvot through the eight day long celebration of this festival:

1) The celebration of Shabbat,

2) The Celebration of the new month of Tevet,

3) Brit Milah (if a baby were to be born on the first day of Hanukkah they would have a brit ceremony on the eighth.

But the eighth day of Hanukkah itself has special meaning–it is our second Neilah. 

According to hasidic thought, when God created light it was a pure, primal light that would have been hard on our simple human eyes.  This pure, primal light filled the world for only 36 hours in the fully created world before God hid it away–twelve hours from the creation of Adam until Shabbat, and the 24 hours of Shabbat. On Hanukkah, not including the Shamash (helper candle) we light 36 candles. These 36 candles represent those 36 hours, the most sanctified time of creation when God’s presence was felt most poignantly. On the eighth night, we light that 36th candle. During those few hours on the eighth night of Hanukkah as the candles are burning, the gates of prayer swing wide open. It is a private time when we are connected to the Divine. 

What I learn from this is that it is never really too late to find meaning and connection. It is never too late to try again. Open your heart to the possibilities of what could be if you try again. Be creative and persistent. If you open the door a crack, that is how the light, the pure, primal light, gets it.

Happy Early Hanukkah. I hope to see you at many of our Hanukkah celebrations over the next month. May it be a joyous festival of lights, as well as a time of quiet contemplation.


Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: October 27, 2022

Fighting for Home

(The following is Rabbi Bender's Sermon from Yom Kippur morning)

This past secular new year, I made a resolution to read more books. In 2021, between Shlomi, and well, Shlomi, I almost got through one book. This year, my 17th book, which I read because it was a New York Times Bestseller and was being made into a movie, was “Where the Crawdads Sing.” It is a story about a girl, Kya Clark, who survived by herself, against all odds, in her abandoned childhood home in the North Carolina marsh. Her father never recovered from his time in the armed service. One by one his wife and all of his adult and teenage children leave. Then he leaves as well. And this 6 year old girl survives by mimicry. She remembers that Ma used to make grits in the morning for breakfast, and through trial and error she teaches herself how to cook. She remembers how her brother used to go fishing in the marsh, and after a few wrong turns, she figures out how to get the boat running and becomes master of the marsh's mazes. She remembers how her father would collect mussels for extra cash, and so she teaches herself how to collect and competitively (working in competition with the local fishermen) sell mussels at the local fill up station next to the dock. 

I will not give away spoilers of this fantastic book, but she fights her entire life in order to tend to and keep what is most important to her in the world, the only constant she has ever had in her life, her home. She hides from social workers who want to get her into a group home and to start school. She fights to keep this family land when it becomes clear that the owners have not paid back taxes in generations. She fights with her very life for her entire life. Now, us responsible adults, especially those of use who are mandated reporters, can easily critique these methods of survival. We can easily judge the few caring adults in her life who helped her get extra food and clothes while also not helping to place her in proper care.

But this is a novel. Kya is written as much as a child as she is a metaphor for the lengths we could, or perhaps should, go to in order to fight for what is most important in our lives. To fight for our home.

It is important to the narrative that she is a child. Children see things both simply and profoundly. They don’t have as much baggage as we do as adults. They don’t overthink things, and yet they care very deeply, they are connected.

My daughter, for instance, loves deeply and fully. She knows who the important people are in her life because she bothers to learn their names. Mama and Yaya, the names she used for myself and Emily, were her first words at 7 and 8 months old. She gives kisses to her family members, even over screen time. Gone are the days she will be held by just anyone. She only wants to be held by those she feels safe with. And I do not think she stays up late at night agonizing over whether or not she should have let the stranger at the grocery store hold her. It is innate. 

Have you ever heard the idiom “From the mouth of babes”? People sometimes say it when little children say truly wise things, perhaps accidentally, but the message hits somewhere deep in the heart of the adult listener. I remember when I told my baby sister, who was four at the time, that Emily and I would be getting married she took a long pause. At first she looked upset. Then something seemed to click in her mind. She said, “Oh! People marry people!” and just continued to play with her toys. From the mouth of babes! If only little kids were running the world, we would be rid of so much adult-driven bigotry.

This phrase comes from Psalm 8:3:

"From the mouths of infants and sucklings

You have founded strength on account of Your foes,

to put an end to enemy and avenger"

Psalms agrees with me about children running the world. Psalms is saying that the words that come out of the mouth of children are of pure intention. That the wisdom of young children has the power to end all war, all struggle. But this end of war and struggle is not passive. The words of children strengthen us to be able to fight back. To fight for what is most important in our lives. In the case of Psalm 8, what are they trying to fight for? Home. A place that is theirs’ in this world–a home where they can be surrounded both by the wonder of nature and the threat of an enemy on the outside. With the wisdom of children, they will have the upper hand. They will be able to fight for home.

And so Kya fought for her home because it was written into her DNA. As a six year old girl, she didn't think about it as the last link between her and her family. She didn’t think about it being the remaining hope that someone would come care for her. It was just all she knew. And so, she fought like the infants and sucklings of Psalm 8. She found the strength to do so within the simplicity of her wisdom as a child. Home for young kids is the place to keep their footing when the rest of the world seems to keep growing and shifting around them. It is where they plant their feet to not fall through the crack of the shifting tectonic plates of their ever changing lives. Home is their constant. Home, that stability, that sense of self is meant to be fought for. It is why kids sometimes fight changes in their lives. What might seem like not a big deal to an adult could be earth shattering to a child. But they always have home. The familiar site of home. The familiar sounds of the house’s unique creaks. The familiar smells of their loved ones' perfume or cologne. The familiar feel of their favorite chair. The familiar tastes of family recipes.

The familiar, the safety, it is worth fighting for, especially when home has been threatened in some way. On Erev Rosh Hashana, I spoke of the Jews returning home to the rebuilt second temple to resume their lifestyle and worship. But you also know from my second day Rosh Hashanah speech that no story is ever that simple.

In the book of Nehemia, we learn that the Jews themselves were able to help in the rebuilding of the Temple. In chapter four we learn that when the Jews were beginning to heal from their past wounds by rebuilding the temple’s outer walls brick by brick, it angered the enemies of Israel, as we see in verse 1:

"When [the enemies of Israel] Sanballat and Toviah, and the Aravim, the Ammonim, and the Ashdodim [basically the enemies on all sides of Jerusalem] heard that healing had come to the walls of Jerusalem, that the breached parts had begun to be filled, it angered them very much, (2) and they all conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to throw it into confusion."

The people building the walls were scared, because they were not soldiers trained for battle. They were artisans, come to do the holy work of putting the Temple back together. They didn’t know what to do to fight against every enemy on all sides.

But Nehemia gives them a pep talk a few verses later, Chapter 4: 8-9:

“Do not be afraid of them! Think of the great and awesome Lord, and fight for your brothers, your sons and daughters, your wives and homes!” (9) When our enemies learned that it had become known to us, since God had thus frustrated their plan, we could all return to the wall, each to his work."

Nehemia tells them–don’t think. You are overthinking. You are doing what adults always do. You are giving me all the reasons you can’t do it, but aren’t acting out of instinct, the innate drive to protect. So he reminds them what they are fighting for. It is not a war between the enemies of Israel and the artisans. It is a fight for the artisans to protect what they value the most–God, siblings, children, spouses, and home. And all they needed to do was shift their thinking from flight to fight, and just that shift made their enemies back away.

But the story does not stop there. As the artisans continued their work to rebuild the wall, they never forgot the lesson that Nehemia taught them. They never forgot what they were fighting for. So, from then on, they made steps to ensure that with each and every brick, they rebuilt into both their minds and the structure, that ongoing fight for home. 

The text continues:

"(10) From that day on, half my servants did work and half held lances and shields, bows and armor. And the officers stood behind the whole house of Judah (11) who were rebuilding the wall. The basket-carriers were burdened, doing work with one hand while the other held a weapon. (12) As for the builders, each had his sword girded at his side as he was building. The trumpeter stood beside me."

In case your mind already went there, this text is often used to textually justify why we have strong security measures in place. And to digress we have incredible security measures in place at this synagogue, all of which only lend to the sanctity of this space–so we can gather and worship without fear. 

But the Tanakh is also a written document. These armed artisans are as much people as they are a metaphor for the lengths we could, or perhaps should, go to in order to fight for what is most important in our lives. To fight for our home. That we build into the very foundation of our homes and in the continued upkeep of our homes the drive to fight for our home not once but every day. To fight for it until it becomes innate.

The congregation knows a lot about fighting for home. When I came here, it is true that you were in the process of rebuilding this home from Hurricane Florence. But you were also rebuilding this home in other ways, trying to come together as a congregation after  a few years of uncertainty, as well as navigate a search for a new rabbi, while also figuring out how to keep the synagogue up and operational during Covid. 

And in the last two years, we have physically and spiritually rebuilt this synagogue. We have ridden the many waves of Covid. We navigated going virtual, going hybrid, and getting back in person.

All of that was a fight response. All of that was the innate, childlike drive to not see this ship sink. To make sure that 124 years of history did not collapse, like so many other houses of worship did during this time. You fought for your home. This home. This physical and spiritual home.

But I am asking you to keep fighting. Yes, I am asking a room full of people with opinions to keep fighting. I do not mean to be nasty and inflammatory. I do not mean to pick a fight or to be confrontational. I am asking you to recognize that this home is a living organism. It can never stop growing. And so, our work of rebuilding is never done. Therefore, never stop fighting.

Never stop fighting for the programs that would bring you and your friends out in droves. If there is a program you feel is missing, fight for it! Help bring in that visiting artist. Help bring in that scholar in residence. Help plan or host that social hour. Just tell me what day you want to lead services or what services you want to learn how to lead. 

Don’t kvetch! Organize! Fight! 

And I will be your Nehemia. Galvanizing you when you don’t quite trust the next steps you need to take. Fighting alongside you and for you.

Fight alongside, not against. Fight together, one hand with the sword and the other laying bricks.

Your ideas, your feedback, your participation are the key missing pieces in our foundation. What you share will never be taken as a personal attack or criticism. It will always be received with excitement–excitement that you trusted me enough to be real with me and share a piece of you, as well as an open heart, and listening ears.

Something that I am trying to learn from our living inspirations, our children, is to be open to every interaction being one where I, where we, can learn from, if we banish our “cant's” and are open to what might be.

Living with childlike wonder is the key to our lifelong fight for home. I had the privilege of getting to know, and the pain of losing such a person in our congregation this year. Dee Sherman, of blessed memory, had a number of conversations with me before she passed. All of those conversations are private and will be gifts I keep with me forever. She shared with me a poem that she loved from the High Holiday liturgy. She loved it so much that she wanted it to be read at her memorial. This poem by Rabbi Alvin Fine is in our Machzor on page 241, as part of the Vidui, confessional section. The poem is meant to remind us of our vulnerabilities, make us aware that we will fail, and sometimes we will fail in ways that make us really stumble and fall. But this is a part of the learning process of life. This is the sacred dance we do as we live, as we grow and mature from childhood to adulthood. 


"Birth is a beginning

And death a destination.

And life is a journey:

From childhood to maturity

And youth to age;

From innocence to awareness

And ignorance to knowing;

From foolishness to discretion

And then, perhaps to wisdom;

From weakness to strength

Or strength to weakness–

And often, back again;

From health to sickness

And back, we pray, to health again;

From offense to forgiveness,

From loneliness to love,

From joy to gratitude,

From pain to compassion,

And grief to understanding–

From fear to faith;

From defeat to defeat to defeat–

Until, looking backward or ahead,

We see that victory lies

Not at some high place along the way,

But in having made the journey, stage by stage,

A sacred pilgrimage.

Birth is a beginning

And death a destination.

And life is a journey,

A sacred pilgrimage."

Life is a journey, from defeat-to defeat-to defeat. Those were the lines that our friend Dee most held to her heart. They were the lines she most remembered and quoted from the poem. But that is the point. We can measure life in a lot of ways. All musical theater nerds who know the song, Seasons of Love, can list now all of the many creative ways that life can be measured:

"In daylights, in sunsets

In midnights, in cups of coffee

In inches, in miles

In laughter, in strife"

From defeat-to defeat-to defeat. Defeat does not have to be negative. Defeat helps us fight even stronger. When Kya burned her first cup of grits, she experimented with more water. She fought to make it better. 

Defeat inspires us to grow beyond our comfort zone. When the artisans saw that they were not prepared for potential battle, they figured out a way to both build and ward off enemies at the same time. 

This year, please fight. Fight for this congregation to never be in a place of stagnation. Fight, with your innate childlike impulse, for this to be a home worth fighting for. 

Gmar Chatimah Tovah, may you be sealed for a good life, but a balanced life, filled with defeat-to defeat-to defeat.

Ta Shema: September 27, 2022

Every Small Detail is Significant to the Story

(The following is Rabbi Bender's sermon from Rosh Hashanah Day 2)

When I was a second semester Junior in high school, I transferred schools. For anyone who has moved schools, let alone mid-year, you know this transition can be quite a lot. Not only was it a new school, but I had moved from Atlantic City High School, with 1500 kids in my class, to an orthodox day school, with 6 in my class. The first day of second semester, we are reminded to submit our applications to March of the Living the following week. One short piece of paper and a scholarship later, I was enrolled on what would be a trip of a lifetime.

For those of you who do not know what March of the Living is, it is a trip for students to visit the two opposite poles of recent Jewish history, the horror of the death camps in Poland, and the thriving state of Israel. On Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance day, people from around the world gather in Poland to silently march from Auschwitz to Birkenau. On Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence day, there is a loud and celebratory march through the old city of Jerusalem to the Kotel, the Western Wall.

You might think that this dance through the streets of our Holy City is the image that most sticks out in my mind. And while I will always cherish that first visit, and every subsequent visit to Israel, a smaller moment from the march from Auschwitz to Birkenau stands out.

When you are Marching, there are students and adults from around the world, and it is hard to not be caught up in the moment and want to learn everyone’s life story. While people on the march try their best not to talk, there is a lot of swag trading. I gave my “March of the Living, America”, hat to a young French woman named Corynne. She signed my hat in French, “In Friendship” to me with the date and her name. 

Then I met a nameless Polish ally. He was not Jewish, I remember that much, but I do not remember anything else about that interaction, because he did not sign what he gave me–which was an Israeli flag.

This man had known this March was happening, and bought who knows how many Israeli flags to give to these students as they made this silent march of remembrance. 

He simply handed me a flag, gave me the faintest smile, and kept walking ahead.

I wrapped myself in this flag and wore it the rest of the way to Birkenau.

To this day, it still has some brown dirt spots on it, and I never dared to dry clean it to get back into mint condition.

That man, that flag, those dirt marks, and that place, are all important parts to making up the significance of that moment.

Every small detail matters. 

If I were to have received that flag from my trip leader, an orthodox man from Lakewood, it would of course be meaningful, but wouldn’t have been burned into my memory like the interaction with the Polish Ally. If I had dry-cleaned the flag in order to hang it up pristinely, it would look like any other flag. It would not be stained with the mud that so many of our family members walked on. The connection to those countless innocent souls would simply be washed away. And of course the memory of where I received this flag. Walking those steps. In that dirt. Knowing I would have a hot meal, a shower, and a hotel bed waiting for me when it was all over. Walking with a flag through any street is always a symbol of my pride, but it will never replace walking to Auschwitz. 

Every small detail matters, and without even one there is no more story.

Washing over any of those details turns the experience more generic, more universal. The particulars, the complexity, the interwoven story that needs to be unpacked layer by layer–that is where the significance lies. And sharing these complex stories, and unpacking them layer by layer with others, that is how we truly tell our stories in order to fully see and effect lasting change.

Today we read of an incident in which every detail mattered, and if one small detail would have been missing, the story would not be the same.

Abraham is called to by God to sacrifice his son as a burnt offering. The next day he loads up his donkey, takes along two servants and his son to begin the journey. Three days of journeying later, he sees the spot where he must sacrifice his son and leaves the donkeys with his servants. He tells them that they are going to go pray together. Abraham and Isaac continue onward, Abraham holding a knife and flint in his hand. Isaac gathers the wood and asks where the sheep is. Abraham tells him the sheep will come from God. They build the altar together, and Abraham ties his son to the altar to sacrifice him. It is at this point that an angel of God has to tell Abraham twice to stop the sacrifice. The angel calls out “Abraham, Abraham.” Abraham responded Hinei, Here I am. God sent a ram to be sacrificed instead. Abraham names the place “God sees” since God saw all that happened. And Abraham gets blessed to be as numerous as the sands of the shore and the stars of heaven.

Every detail of the story mattered. The story we read in the Torah today is terse. With the terseness you get the sense that if one small detail would have been out of place, the story would have fallen apart. 

There is an initial call by God and then three days of traveling. There is not one word spoken in the written text, which leads us to perhaps imagine that no words were spoken in all that time. No questions as to where they are going and why there is no animal being brought with them.

If the two servants had insisted on going along with them, if an animal happened to walk out of the bushes any time before the angel of God showed Abraham the ram in the thicket.

If only anything, then this story would not have happened. Then Abraham wouldn’t get his blessing. Then we would not be sitting here today.

All of it–the silence, the ram, the servants, the bushes, the call–equally significant to the story.

Washing over any of those details turns the experience more generic, more universal. To a story of the beginning of our peoplehood to that of a man sacrificing a sheep with his son and servants. The particulars, the complexity, the interwoven story that needs to be unpacked layer by layer, just as we unpack this story year after year on this holiday–that is where the significance lies. And sharing this complex story, and unpacking it layer by layer, that is how we truly tell our origin story in order to fully see what was and effect lasting change today.

In the chillingly named book, People love dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present, by Dara Horn, we are again faced with the small details mattering for the significance of the moment to remain intact.

But first a word on the title for those who have not read the book, and I strongly urge everyone to do so.

From her interview with the Times of Israel article written by Renee Ghert-Zand: 

“It’s not dead Jews, as in people wanting to see Jews die,” Horn explained in a recent interview with The Times of Israel from her home in New Jersey.

Rather, she said, "it’s about the insidious ways in which non-Jewish societies — including contemporary America — pressure or gaslight Jews into modifying, glossing over, or erasing their own identity altogether.”

She gives many examples from docents being told to not wear kippot at the Anne Frank house to the media picking up less and less on recent attacks against the Jewish people on American soil.

In one essay, she talks about an exhibit on Auschwitz put together by the same company who made the famous Human Bodies exhibit that used cadavers to teach visitors about how human bodies move below the surface of the skin. 

This exhibit they put on was called Auschwitz: Not long ago, not far away. Horn describes the exhibit as doing everything an exhibit on the Holocaust should do. It shared background history, explanation about different stages of the war, videos of interviews with people who survived, as well as many artifacts gathered together from other Holocaust museums around the world. Despite doing everything that can be considered proper form for a Holocaust exhibit to have, Horn never wanted to see the exhibit again.

Her main critique is that the museum did not teach the greater population something to really take hold of in order to effect change in the world. The main message she took from the many hours she spent in the museum is that the Holocaust happened from lack of love.

To quote Horn, “The Holocaust drives home the importance of love is an idea, like the idea that Holocaust education prevents anti-semitism, that seems entirely unobjectionable. [BUT] It is entirely objectionable. The Holocaust didn’t happen because of a lack of love. It happened because entire societies abdicated responsibility for their own problems, and instead blamed them on the people who represented–who always represented, since they first introduced the idea of commandedness to the world–the thing they were most afraid of: responsibility.”

In contrast, this is how she speaks about her own experience at March of the Living when she was in High School, “It is the sort of trip the clever people can easily critique, but I was 15 and found it profoundly moving. Being in places with thousands of Jewish teens felt like a thundering announcement of the Holocaust’s failure to eradicate children like me.”

Our stories matter, and every detail in them matters, and to take any detail away reduces the story to something that is not ours.

Thousands of people from around the world have seen the exhibit Horn went to as well as many other, much more well done museums. Yad VaShem and the Holocaust Museum in Washington, are both giants in the world of educating both educators, as well as perpetrators of anti-semitism by inviting them to tour the halls of their museums–each are highly impactful programs. And we know that antisemitism is on the rise, nationally and internationally.

We as Jews are taught the story, the whole story. The personal and political, the camps and the war front, the millennia of anti-semitism leading up to and the attempts to recover from that exist until this day. We are taught the horror, the complexity, and at times, the simplicity, the simple acts of hatred and non-action, that led to and perpetuated the Holocaust.

Every detail matters. Every single one. Every single life. Every single story. And one museum trip, no matter how wonderfully curated, can’t give you the entire story.

Only life-long-learning can do that. Only the expectation that there is more left to learn than you have already been taught can lead you to a life where you can’t simply hate someone for one factor that offends you. You know that the story can never be that simple.

You know that the particulars, the complexity, the interwoven story that needs to be unpacked layer by layer–that is where the significance lies. And sharing these complex stories, and unpacking them layer by layer with others, that is how we truly tell our stories in order to fully see and effect lasting change.

Here we are today. On the last day of our Jewish New Year, reflecting on all of Jewish history that came before us that led us to this point.

In our more recent history: returning to our sanctuary, removing our masks and seeing each other's faces, moving from electronic prayer space to in person prayer space, removing any barriers or distance between us as we pray, handing out candies during the Shabbat morning Torah readings, gathering together for Passover seder, our dedication weekend, the cookout, Friday night membership dinner, and Rosh Hashanah dinner. We can acutely see that all of the details mattered. Every small detail that makes up this shul matters.

Every face. Every voice. Every Jew in the pew. Every attendee of every going on. Every simcha. Every loss. Every story. Every journey.

These are all the small details that we see aren’t so small. With a single detail missing, it wouldn’t be the same. It wouldn’t be home.

Every single one of us is a part of the significance, the holiness, the home-iness of Bnai Israel.

Your part in the greater story of Bnai Israel is a life-long commitment, and your Bnai Israel family will be with you along that journey of life.

The next time you think, God forbid anyone should think, that you aren’t wanted or needed here, that you won’t be missed, that you don’t need to attend or be a part of something going on here at Bnai Israel, remember that you are that significant element that keeps the story going. 

May this year be one where we can come together in our greatest numbers yet since even before the pandemic. May this year everyone in our family feel at home. May each of us feel that we are needed and wanted, and truly know that we are what is most essential to writing this story of Bnai Israel well into the future.

L’Shana Tova, May this year be one where we pay attention to and cherish every single small detail in our lives. As we already know, the impact will be significant.


Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: August 25, 2022

The Joyfully Familiar Feeling of the

High Holidays


My daughter was recently on a plane for the second time in her life, but she has no memory of the first go around one year ago. She had the time of her life. The too big rocking chairs at ILM airport were fun to play in. The long metal tunnels that connected to the plane were the perfect stretch for practicing sprints. Inside the plane, Shlomi waved and said goodbye to all the people on the tarmac, neighboring planes, flashing lights, and tiny far-off buildings she encountered.

I was not surprised at her amusement with every aspect of plane travel, since I didn’t expect her to remember her first time. I was not expecting her to be just as amused with the experience on the way back. 

She laughed even louder as we walked through the long metal tunnels. She sang “The Wheels on the Bus” at the top of her lungs as she saw the different planes (we are working on the difference between a plane and a bus). On the way back, she even figured out the windows can open and shut.

With each trip, she got into the rhythm. She knew what was to be expected, looked forward to it, and embraced it. Each repetition was an opportunity for something new and a deeper connection.

And so we enter our holiest season of the year…again! The same time as last year according to the Hebrew calendar. With the holiday season comes the same formulas, ceremonies, prayers, traditions, and experiences that you may have experienced for decades. There is a delicate balance between keeping services familiar while also keeping them fresh and exciting. While we strive for innovation each and every year, and this year is no different, what might be the most novel this year is that we are returning to how the holidays used to look before Covid waivers and masks. This year, we return to normal, or at least as normal as we can at this stage in the pandemic. 

We recognize that Covid is still very much a reality, but we have transitioned to a period where each of us will take a personal risk assessment and decide what spaces feel safest for us. This year we will have, God willing, a normal, full-housed High Holiday season. For those not yet ready for big in person events, there will still be streaming available. A number of High Holiday events will be outdoors to accommodate all. 

Shlomi inspires us all to embrace the joyfully familiar feeling of a full voiced Shofar and a packed Rosh HaShannah dinner and services. I can’t wait to experience the comfortable and familiar rhythms of the season once again as they are meant to be experienced–with community.

From my family to yours, I wish you a Shannah Tova u’Metukah, a very sweet new year. May you experience many new things this year, and may you get an even greater joy from returning to a full and vibrant every day life.














Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: July 29, 2022

Much of the Torah is focused around the search for home. Home, for many of us, either in remembering our childhoods or in the home we established as adults, brings to mind positive affiliations. Home is the beginning and end of our journey each day, and of course in the great journey of life. This upcoming week’s Torah portion begins to bring to a close the Book of Numbers, which is wholly concerned with the pursuit of a home in the Promised Land.

The people reach the land just over the Jordan River from the Promised Land. The tribes of Reuben and Gad, who herd cattle are ready to stop traveling and create a home on this side of the Jordan which is lush with green pastures. However, when they suggest staying put, Moses is upset.

The issue seems to be that this choice is only concerned with their own personal welfare. Moses asks them why they would choose a different path when they are so close to reaching a homeland for all the tribes. After hearing Moses’ concern, they agree to help establish a home for the entire community before returning to the pastures to tend their cattle. 

The message of the Torah is clear. Everyone in the community must have a safe place to be before any of us consider ourselves at home.

The story of displacement lies deep within our communal and individual Jewish histories. Narratives of fleeing oppression and wandering in search of home lie at the heart of our most sacred texts, inform our most cherished relationships, and have shaped our individual identities as Jews.

There has not been a time since my joining this sacred community, and a little bit before, that there has not been a big Covid shaped curve ball thrown at us. Despite that, we are up to bat with the bases loaded at the top of the ninth. But we really need all of us to hit it out of the park.

But as the Torah teaches us, everyone must feel safe for us to consider ourselves at home. For those of you who haven’t yet for whatever reason– come home. Come see the gorgeous sanctuary and feel the sense of calm wash over you when you enter that space. Come to services. Come join the baggers. Join the education committee, open doors committee, sunshine team, or chevra kaddisha burial society. Just stop by the office to say hi and let’s have a cup of coffee. 

Let the synagogue be the beginning and the end of your journey, but most importantly, let it be the 120 years in between. And remember, every one of you matters and is important, essential, along the journey.


Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: June 30, 2022

Installation Speech Friday, June 10, 2022

It's good to be home. 

Emily and I are so blessed to have found a spiritual and physical home in Bnai Israel and Wilmington.

There aren’t enough pens or ink cartridges to express the love and gratitude I have for Emily for being the best friend, partner, writer, and Imah in the world as we journey through life together.

We can honestly say that we have never felt so woven into the fabric of community than we have here. We are blessed to be able to raise our daughter, Shlomi, within these halls. She already has so many bonus aunts/uncles/grandparents from this congregation and we have loved celebrating all of her simchas so far with everyone.

It's good to have a family in Bnai Israel, in all that the word family means and all of its complexities.

Sometimes I walk into my BIC home on a Sunday morning and after setting up a Hebrew School event for the morning, a tots event for the afternoon, as well as an adult luncheon, I feel a sense of pride for the vibrancy of this amazing congregation.

And sometimes I walk into my BIC home on a Saturday morning to find that Duke energy gifted us with a no power/no internet shabbat service and we have to shvitz it out while using my cell phone as a personal hotspot to keep zoom running.

Family is real. Family is messy. 

Family is exactly what you expect while also completely surprising. 

Family has the right heart but sometimes has limitations and boundaries.

Families laugh together, cry together, are silly, are serious, get on each other's nerves–and other colorful things that one can’t say on the Bimah, but healthy families always support each other. 

And families grow.

They grow larger and grow together.

The past two years I have both grown and strived to grow this family to be one that is healthy, fulfilled, and dynamic. 

The great part is, the process of growth is never-ending. I look forward, God-willing, to many years of growth, of blessing and being blessed. 

Of watching the Hebrew School kids graduate High School. Of watching Parents become Grandparents, and Grandparents become Great Grandparents. Of coming together to celebrate life’s joys. Even seeing us come together to go through the timeless, healing steps of mourning.

I look forward to building–not just this sanctuary which is beautiful, but a spiritual home for all. A place where all feel welcomed, embraced, appreciated, and wanted just the way they are. To strive for everyone feeling connected to this congregation as well as their own spirituality and inner drive. I look forward to deepening our bond with Greater Jewish Wilmington and Greater Wilmington. 

When needed, I also look forward to making repairs. I invite all difficult conversations for the betterment of this congregation and our personal relationship.

So thank you. Thank you for the incredible privilege of serving you. I love this family and it is the honor of my lifetime to have been welcomed, along with Emily and Shlomtzion into this family.

I invite all of my Rabbi friends to come up and raise their hands to bless us all with ancient words that come from this week’s Torah portion and that Rav Waxman just blessed me with a few minutes ago. I also invite all current and past presidents to stand if you are comfortable, and raise your hands like the ancient priests as I bless this congregation with the priestly blessing.

יְבָרֶכְךָ ה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ

יָאֵר ה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ

יִשָּׂא ה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

God will bless you and protect you.

God will deal kindly and graciously with you.

God will bestow favor on you and grant you peace.


Amen v'amen

Ta Shema: June 3, 2022

This weekend we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot, the "Feast of Weeks," is celebrated 7 weeks after Passover. The holiday of Shavuot is about two things, the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and the grain harvest. 

 The first part, the giving of the Torah, is what we most associate with the holiday. On this day in Biblical times, Moses went up the mountain to get the 10 Commandments. Revelation at Sinai was magnificent, but is reported in the Torah to have been over as soon as it started. The Rabbis claim that God was only able to utter the silent letter Aleph before the Jews became too overstimulated to hear any more.

 The second part, the grain harvest, was a major part of the biblical Shavuot experience but is more obscure in modern times. Three times a year, Jews were expected to walk to Jerusalem to offer portions of their harvests to the Temple as part of the Pilgrimage festivals–Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot. These festivals helped mark formal season changes for farmers, as well as a time to bond as the Jewish people in one space at one time. 

 The Pilgrimage festivals were an interesting phenomenon. Men (yes men, and at the time only freed, able bodied men or teens) walked all the way to Jerusalem three times a year, regardless of where they lived in Israel. Some men who lived especially far away could take weeks to make the journey. They put in a lot of preparation and devotion to getting to the festivals. They didn't have any hotels, gas stations, fast food restaurants, or any modern mode of transportation. What they did have was the stamina and determination to make it and the desire to pass on that tradition to the next generation.

On the heels of Shavuot, this community will have our own festival–the Celebration! Installation! Dedication! Event. It will be an amazing opportunity to come together as one big family with gratitude for our past and excitement for our future. That will be big our Sinai event. Just like with any simcha (joyous occasion) this event will be memorable and time will fly by.

The real miracle of Revelation, however, is in the small steps along the journey of the pilgrimage. Every single detail of the Celebration! Installation! Dedication! Event has been planned out lovingly by our committee members:

Amy DeLoach, Committee Chair

Jon Alper

Reba Alper

Michelle Bannon

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Rena Goldwasser

Terry Jensen

Diane Gerberg

Pam Sender

Joelle Serot

Debbie Smith

Susan Turner

Barbara Waxman

Laurel Westreich

Leigh Winter

Walter Winter

Felice Zeldin

Since October 2021, this committee has met every few weeks, to plan every detail, no matter how small. While the committee members did not walk through deserts carrying their worldly possessions on their backs to attend the meetings, they had the same stamina and determination as our ancestors did. So much time, hard work, attention to detail, and love went into this event. While the event itself will be memorable for years to come, I know this event will also inspire the next generation of synagogue volunteers to step up and give back.

Shavuot Sameach, a very happy Shavuot Holiday. We look forward to celebrating with you shortly at the upcoming Celebration! Installation! Dedication! Event as well as many other future gatherings in our gorgeous and holy synagogue.



Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: May 20, 2022

This week, in the midst of the counting of the omer, we have two very minor holidays or spiritual pauses. Sunday May 15th was Pesach Sheni, Second Passover, and today, May 19th, is Lag BaOmer. 
Pesach Sheni, coming a month after Passover, was an opportunity in Biblical times for those who had been in a state of ritual impurity during Pesah to offer a delayed version of the paschal sacrifice. Today, the day is marked by recognizing the power of second chances. We do not always get the chance to start over again or make amends when something went wrong the first time. Pesach Sheni teaches to not take for granted the moment at hand, and most especially if you are given the chance to start again.  
And just a few days later falls Lag Ba-omer, “the thirty-third day of the omer”. 
Believed to be the day on which the plague that afflicted Rabbi Akiva’s students ceased, Lag BaOmer is a day of respite from the sadness of the omer. On this day, all traditional mourning rituals cease meaning weddings are permitted, and haircuts and shaving are allowed. 
Last week I spoke about the sadness in joy and the joy in sadness. These minor holidays are aligned with that theme. While the omer is generally a solemn time of contemplation, these two days ritually require us to pause and be grateful for the opportunity to reflect on gratitude and joy. This is joy in sadness. 
On the other hand, this week, on the eve of Pesach Sheni, we lost our friend, Beryl Jacobson, wife of Jay Jacobson. She was a woman of many tastes and talents, a sharp and witty humor, with a love of travel only rivaled by her love of family. She passed just a few weeks shy of her 70th wedding anniversary. This is sadness in joy. 
Yet, as I met with her family and prepared for her funeral, surrounded by her art she had collected over the years and tokens from her many travels with Jay, hearing her family share many humorous memories of her, joy in sadness appeared yet again. 
These times of complex grief harken to the verse in Isaiah 45:7: 
I form light and create darkness, 
I make peace and create woe— 
I God do all these things. 
I remind myself in these times that God is in all of these occurrences, the difficult times and the celebratory times. The omer teaches us that all times, no matter how they appear on the surface level, are tinged with both celebration and difficulty. 
Last week, my cousin’s wedding was colored with the difficulty of feeling full joy knowing the brides’s cousin had died tragically young and would be greatly missed from attendance. 
This week, we bury of our dear friend Beryl, knowing that she loved a deep love that people only dream of, and was about to celebrate 70 years of love with Jay. We will sit shiva with the family in her home where you will be able to see on every wall and shelf space a piece of her adventures.  
May Beryl’s memory eternally be for a blessing and may her family be granted strength, solace, and consolation. 
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Lag BaOmer, 
Rabbi Chaya Bender 

Ta Shema: May 6, 2022

We are about to enter our third week of the Omer, our spiritual accounting between the festivals of Passover and Shavuot.

Traditionally, on the third week of the Omer, we reflect on the attribute of Harmony, Truth, and Balance, translated into Hebrew as Tiferet.

This week, explore the Omer exercises on, the Conservative Movement's newest online resource, to find more Harmony, Truth, and Balance in your life.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: April 1, 2022

Ta Shema: March 25, 2022

Ta Shema: March 11, 2022

Purim Sameach, Happy Purim, Y'all!


Don't forget about our carnival, complete with bouncy castle and cotton candy, Sunday, March 13 at 11 am, and our Purim Party, featuring breakfast for dinner and an ice cream bar (in addition to the regular bar) and the megillah, Wednesday, March 16 at 6:30 pm.

Ta Shema: March 4, 2022

Please join us this Friday night as we participate in the ADL’s National Refugee Shabbat. We will offer prayers for healing and peace for our siblings in Ukraine. For those moved to do so, Masorti Olami, the international movement of Conservative Judaism, is collecting emergency funds here to go directly to help the Ukrainians. God-willing, through prayer and united global action, this will come to a swift and peaceful end.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: February 25, 2022

In honor of the last weekend of JDAIM, please take the time to listen to this incredible talk by Rabbi Lauren Tuchman, the first blind woman to enter the rabbinate, about the Transformative Power of Inclusive Torah.

View here for her talk, We Were All at Sinai:

To learn more about Rabbi Tuchman, you can visit her website:

You are invited to continue this conversation by coming to services this Saturday morning for a special presentation about visual ability led by Theresa Densmore during Kiddush.

Together we will build a more inclusive and welcoming BIC.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bender

Tue, May 21 2024 13 Iyyar 5784