Sign In Forgot Password



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: 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

Ta Shema: February 18, 2022

On Tuesday night, I delivered the invocation at the City Council meeting on the second floor of Thalian Hall. When I exited the Council Chambers, my eyes were drawn to a familiar name on the wall: Ruth and Bucky Stein Studio Theatre. I said a small prayer for him and his loved ones.

In our weekly Torah portion, Ki Tissa, we see an obscure verse:

“Make of [these ingredients] an oil for anointing the holy—a perfume that is perfumed in the manner of a perfumer—an oil for anointing the holy will it be.”
(Exodus 30:25)

The Hebrew root, Rekach, is repeated three times: Perfume, perfumed, and perfumer. A simple reading of this text is that the perfume had to be made according to an exact formula, but the verse is extremely clunky. The rabbis believe there is no such thing as a clunky verse, rather an invitation to take a deeper dive into the true meaning. 

By using the root three ways, the person who created, the process of creation, and the product created are all equally important. 

To be more precise, the text draws a clear connection from the end product back to the human being and the work they did to bring this product into existence. 

At Thalian Hall, I saw the product, one of the many lasting philanthropic works that Bucky will leave behind. However, his process and his personhood will be what most strongly live on in my memory.

Like the perfumer, Bucky crafted his life according to an exact formula and clear vision. While certainly he was not afraid to speak his mind, what I respected most about him was that no matter how fundamental a difference of opinion we might have had, it never impacted the tenderness he showed my family or me. As much as he was a businessman, he was also an artisan who curated his life so that he could live it to the fullest–a life full of travel, music, family, and love.  

May the memory of Bucky Stein eternally be for a blessing, and may God grant all of us a life as long, full, and well-lived.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bender

Ta Shema: February 11, 2022

Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Haninah: Torah scholars increase peace in the world. As it says, ‘All of Your children (בָּנָיִךְ) are students of God; great is the peace of Your children’ (Isaiah 54:13). Read this not בָּנָיִךְ — ‘Your children’ — but rather בּוֹנַיִךְ — ‘Your builders'.” (Berachot 64a)

The past two years, our Hebrew School has grown substantially. We have learners from preschool to high school within our walls. Not only are they learning about their heritage and building lasting relationships, I have found that they are also teachers. 

Our Hebrew High School class has spent the year finding ways to learn through action. One such action is finding ways to “green” BIC—thus living out the principles of Baal Tashchit, not wasting, and Tikkun Olam, fixing the one planet we have. They are inviting adults to join them in hosting an Adama Shabbat, details in our weekly newsletter. Please consider joining these incredible teens on their mission. In doing so, our children truly will be our builders of a brighter, greener future. 


Ta Shema: February 4, 2022

This week we began the Hebrew month of Adar I. In most years, Adar appears just once. In a leap year, we get two Adars, Adar I and Adar II. Due to having a lunar/solar calendar, this leap month puts the calendar back on track to keep all of our holidays in line with the agrarian calendar. While doubling up any month would work in order to get the calendar back in sync, Adar is the month of the unbridled joy of Purim. Besides, having two Rosh Hashanahs of Tishrei or two Passovers of Nisan would be too exhausting, and having two Tisha B'Avs would be a giant bummer.

Purim itself is in Adar II. Adar I represents the endless joyful possibilities that are just within reach. This is why in Hebrew a leap year is called a "pregnant year,"  "Shanah Me'uberet."

This month, think about all of the joyful possibilities this year has in store just within reach. Make a plan to grasp them all so none of them should be out of reach. After all, you get an extra month to fit it all in!

--By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

The first Adar takes its name
from the letter who tells no tales.

Contains "little Purim"
which is just like big Purim

except we don't read the megillah
or send gift baskets

we just cultivate joy.
The first Adar's mitzvot are invisible.

The first Adar conceals its holiness
like a veiled Torah scroll.

It's like the cosmos compressed
into the silent first letter

of the first word
of the first commandment.

Like the queen whose name means hidden,
who keeps her Judaism close to the vest.

Like the Holy One, never mentioned
in our bawdy passion play

but gleaming all over the story
for we who have eyes to see.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: January 29, 2022

An Open Door Project Update

Inclusion has become an important buzzword in our society. Often “inclusion” is something people think about as an after-thought—meaning after it is all said and done, in case we made ourselves inaccessible to a population, let us try to make an adjustment. However, inclusion is not something that should be an afterthought. It should be built into the framework of our organization and a part of everything we do. Most importantly, it should be the forethought, the welcoming red carpet we roll out in advance of people needing or asking for it.

Inclusion means creating opportunities for all to be full members of society. However, just creating opportunities is not in itself the goal. Rather it is an important step on the long journey to belonging. It’s about wholeheartedly caring for each member of our kehillah kedosha, holy community, and listening to each person’s individual needs.

Are those in the margins: invited, present, welcomed, known, accepted, supported, cared for, befriended, needed, and loved?

That is exactly what our Open Door Project, headed by Rena Goldwasser, is setting out to do. 

Below Rena shares an update on our Open Door Project as we head into Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month. Together we strive to make Bnai Israel a place where everyone not only feels included but has a true sense of belonging.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Chaya Bender


Open Door Project Article #1  

“Hospitality is temporary.  Inclusion is permanent.”
--Rabbi Steve Wernick, USCJ CEO

Hello everyone!  My name is Rena Goldwasser and I am writing to share news about our Open Door Project (ODP) that I’m working on with Rabbi Bender and other BIC members (Terry Jensen, Mike Smith, Michelle Bannon, and Diane Gerberg).

The ODP was created by the Bnai Israel Congregation (BIC) Board of Directors to serve as a resource for all of our BIC families AND those who are thinking of joining us–families with members who are of a different faith, Jewish LGBTQ+ folks, and Jews of all colors and disabilities, and all ages.  In other words, to ensure that BIC continues to be a vital 21st-century synagogue that serves 21st-century families and individuals in the Conservative tradition.  We are committed to enhancing and expanding the welcoming culture that has been a hallmark of this congregation and making sure that anyone who is looking for a Conservative Jewish home knows about BIC. 

At this time, I’m writing to highlight the idea of inclusion for all, including those with disabilities.   February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month  (JDAIM) 2022 which is in its 13th year of worldwide celebration.  The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) is promoting this event and has developed a website where you can find more information about this and resources that are available, including registration for Jewish Disability and Advocacy Day Conference (on Zoom) planned for February 23d and 24th.  Another site to look at will take you to a podcast collection of recordings called Everyone’s Welcome: A Fresh Conversation on Disability which explores the many areas of inclusiveness that can ensure that people with disabilities and their families can fully and comfortably participate in congregational life.  

Look for more newsletter articles and social media posts highlighting the various ways we live our diversity and inclusion at BIC right now and plans for the future. Feedback is welcomed and encouraged. We are a forum for discussing and responding to the ritual, educational and social needs of our community to make it a “spiritual home” for all. Please feel free to contact me or Rabbi Bender with any questions, suggestions, or feedback. 

Rena Goldwasser
ODP Chair

Rabbi Chaya Bender


From Rabbi Bender and President DeLoach

Last Saturday, when we heard the news of the hostage situation in Texas, our hearts dropped, and we were overcome with sadness. Thank God it ended well, but once again, we are reminded of the needs of the synagogue to protect the congregation. Immediately, we were given an update from the Security Subcommittee of the House Committee about what we have in place here at the synagogue to prevent such an event from occurring here.  We are truly impressed with everything already established and the amazing work this committee has done and continues to do to allow us to gather in safety and sanctity.

We currently maintain our facility in lockdown–all guests must be allowed access to our building through our monitoring systems. We have state-of-the-art video surveillance systems that feature internal views of the outside and inside of the synagogue. In addition, we have access control panels to the doors that can be operated remotely. Of course, we always strive for best practices and attend frequent training to stay on top of the newest safety procedures.

On Tuesday, there was a Zoom call that we along with several committee members attended about synagogue safety and the Texas event.  Merrick Garland (US Attorney General), and Christopher Wray (Director of FBI), were among those participating in the call. They made it clear that the FBI does indeed consider this a terror incident against the Jewish community. We were comforted knowing at how high a level the US Government is taking the threats against the Jewish people. The main points we took away from the call are as follows:


  1. We must all be the eyes and ears of law enforcement. Many of the perpetrators are lone actors, making it hard to connect the dots in tracking them.
  2. We must build and maintain relationships with law enforcement agencies in New Hanover County. I was thankful to learn that the committee has done this.
  3. We must all be trained in what to do in an emergency situation. We are in the process now of arranging for more training and will reach back out soon with information as to when this will take place.


In the interim, we want to remain warm and welcoming but stay vigilant. To that end, we are making the following temporary policy changes:


  1. The Bnai Israel office is open from 10 am to 4 pm, Monday through Friday. Please contact Trish before visiting the synagogue, so we know to expect you. Trish should be informed of all meetings at the synagogue. No one that is not a congregant will have access to the shul without an appointment.
  2. Vendors will not let anyone into the building unless they are part of the vendor's crew.
  3. When visiting the building, do not open the door or hold the door for anyone you do not know. With this in mind, please be aware that an individual with malevolent intent may attempt to "piggyback" on your access to the synagogue. We will be relying on our members understanding their role and responsibility to preclude occurrences of this situation. In this situation, please back away from the Chestnut Street entrance and allow the unidentified individual(s) to use the access control features at this entrance to communicate their request for entry to the synagogue. 
  4. Exterior doors should never be propped open.
  5. Visitors are always welcome to worship with us for Shabbat services. We ask at this time that all visitors pre-register for Shabbat services during office hours. Please have visitors contact the office with your name, phone number, email, and date of the service they wish to attend.
  6. We will once again include diagrams in the sanctuary of the exits and address of the synagogue for quick reference for calling 911, God forbid. 
  7. We will reach out to the police department and ask for more drive-by checks on Friday night and Saturday mornings.


Please don't hesitate to reach out to us with questions or ideas, and know that we are diligently working on this.

Shabbat Shalom,

Amy B. DeLoach, President 


Rabbi Chaya Bender



Show Up for Shabbat--Stand with Colleyville

Dear Bnai Israel Congregation Family,

There is a Shabbat tradition to sing zemirot, songs, after a shabbat meal. Before you clean up the meal, or even move on to dessert, the table erupts in songs so that family and friends can stay together a bit longer and sing verses of praise. One such song goes like this:

אַחֵינוּ כָּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, הַנְּתוּנִים בְּצָרָה וּבַשִּׁבְיָה, הָעוֹמְדִים בֵּין בַּיָּם וּבֵין בַּיַּבָּשָׁה, הַמָּקוֹם יְרַחֵם עֲלֵיהֶם, וְיוֹצִיאֵם מִצָּרָה לִרְוָחָה, וּמֵאֲפֵלָה לְאוֹרָה, וּמִשִּׁעְבּוּד לִגְאֻלָּה, הַשְׁתָּא בַּעֲגָלָא וּבִזְמַן קָרִיב.

As for our siblings,​ the whole house of Israel, who are given over to trouble or captivity​, whether they abide on the sea or on the dry land: 

May the All-prese​nt have mercy upon them, and bring them forth from trouble to enlargeme​nt, from darkness to light, and from subjectio​n to redemptio​n, now speedily and at a near time. 

It wasn’t until last night that I truly appreciated the full weight of that zemer (song). Before yesterday it, like many of our songs and prophetic writings, referred to some time long ago or a time yet to be seen in the future.

Yesterday, the Jewish people were attacked when, following Shabbat services, an unnamed suspect held four people for almost 12 hours, including Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. Thanks to law enforcement and the collective prayers of the Jewish people, all four hostages have been released. 

Upon returning safely to his home, Rabbi Cytron-Walker posted on social media:

I am thankful and filled with appreciation for
All of the vigils and prayers and love and support,
All of the law enforcement and first responders who cared for us,
All of the security training that helped save us.
I am grateful for my family.
I am grateful for the CBI Community, the Jewish Community, the Human Community.
I am grateful that we made it out.
I am grateful to be alive.

I urge you all to do as we have done for two thousand years–continue to live Judaism out loud. Do not let those who aim to terrorize us in our holiest places on our holiest days win. I urge you to Show Up for Shabbat.

This Friday night we are installing the new board and celebrating Michelle Bannon for her years of extraordinary service in her position as president. Kava Notes will be offering songs to enhance the evenings. After services we will have a celebratory oneg. 

Show Up for Shabbat–in person or on zoom. Come celebrate as a community so that fear does not keep us from our tradition and each other.

In doing so we can fulfill the words of yet another zemer:

יְהִי שָׁלוֹם בְּחֵילֵךְ שַׁלְוָה בּאַרְמְנוֹתָיךְ.

Peace be within your walls, prosperit​y within your palaces.

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: January 7, 2022

Plagues and Trees are the themes this early January. In our weekly Torah portion, as well as outside on our front porch, plagues wreak havoc upon the world. Moses comes before Pharaoh and tells him that the way out of the plague is to “Let my people go.” However, we just like Moses know that the way out of the plague is not that simple. Both Biblical and modern

plagues require unity of heart and consistency of action to see it through to the other side.

If the plagues of the Bible were taking place in real time, Shevat is the plague of locusts. Having survived the fiery hail that left some shoots of vegetation, the Egyptians thought that not all hope had been lost. 

And then the locusts came and dashed their hopes.

Yet, this time of year is very hopeful.

Trees also make an important appearance in the Jewish calendar. We are approaching Tu BiShvat, the New Year for the trees. The almond tree is about to bloom in Israel. The almond tree symbolizes the hardy soul who, having survived the darkness of winter, sweetly blossoms anew. In the Bible, Moses uses his staff, which some commentators claim is made from almond wood, to both bring the plagues upon the Egyptians as well as ultimately split the sea and lead the Israelites to freedom.

Trees and Plagues represent the opposites of life that we experience this time of year and always. We see that they are more symbiotic than opposing forces.

This week we experienced a sudden and tragic loss in our community as Efraim Jaronowski lost his short battle with illness. As strange as it might sound to say, he was the almond tree of this congregation physically and spiritually. 

As one of the Saturday morning regulars, he was rooted in routine. You could depend on him to help with the Torah service and read Haftarah. He could also be depended upon to tell me exactly what he felt about my sermon and how it compared to previous sermons (all of which he had committed a portion of to memory). 

A spiritual task he undertook was the Yizkor book for Yom Kippur. It was his mission to make the Yizkor service as moving and accessible as possible. This avodat lev, service of the heart, helped to console countless mourners over the years. In the winter of their mourning, he helped them take a step towards healing and starting anew.

He will be buried in New Jersey this Sunday, and following internment, the custom is to celebrate life. When we share memories, I believe we share a spark of that person’s soul. In doing so, where the locusts came and ate the shoots, we planted a heart almond tree. Something that we can hold onto until some time has passed and, in the face of winter, flowers dare to bloom again.

May Efraim’s memory eternally be for a blessing and may his entire family be given strength, solace, and consolation.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: December 31, 2021

While we already had our Jewish New Year 5782 back in September, we are approaching our secular New Year 2022. It might not be a date of Teshuva, Tefillah, and Tzedakah (Repentance, Prayer, and Charitable giving), but it does still have some spiritual significance.

In Judaism, there is a belief that numbers have spiritual meaning in a practice called Gematria. The number 2022, surprisingly enough, is spiritually significant. 2022 is the value of the letters from Psalms 96:6 added up.




Psalm 96:6:

Glory and majesty are before God;
strength and splendor are in God’s Temple.
הוֹד־וְהָדָ֥ר לְפָנָ֑יו עֹ֥ז וְ֝תִפְאֶ֗רֶת בְּמִקְדָּשֽׁוֹ׃

Psalm 96 is a central part of our liturgy, especially on Friday nights. We sing it as a part of Kabbalat Shabbat. The refrain of verse 11 is perhaps most familiar; Yismekhu HaShamayim v’Tagel Ha’Aretz. Let the heavens rejoice and the earth exult; let the sea and all within it thunder. Psalm 96 reminds us that the power and beauty of God is found not only in God’s Temple, like in verse 6, but also in the earth itself, like in verse 11. May this secular new year be a time where we can reflect on and find the sacred in everything from our Synagogue space to sitting on the beach during this glorious December weather.

May 2022 be a spiritual boost to the heights you reached at the beginning of 5782.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: December 17, 2021

I was the guest on "Drinking & Drashing, Torah with a Twist," for this week's parasha, Vayechi. This week we finish the book of Genesis, and with it we see the death of our ancestors Jacob and Joseph. What are the lessons that we can learn from the closing of this book? Listen and find out!

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bender





Ta Shema: December 10, 2021

From Our Rabbi

It is traditional to sing Maoz Tzur, Rock of Ages, after lighting the Hanukkah. The lyrics that most of us are familiar with are:

Rock of Ages let our song,
Praise thy saving power;
Thou amidst the raging foes,
Wast our sheltering tower.
Furiously they assailed us,
But Thine arm availed us
And Thy word broke their sword,
When our own strength failed us.
And Thy word broke their sword,
When our own strength failed us.

These lyrics show one aspect of the holiday–the unlikely defeat of the Greek Army by a bunch of shleppers. However, that translation is not a direct interpretation of the Hebrew words. A more direct translation would be this:

O mighty stronghold of my salvation,
to praise You is a delight.
Restore my House of Prayer
and there we will bring a thanksgiving offering.
When You will have prepared the slaughter
for the blaspheming foe,
Then I shall complete with a song of hymn
the rededication of the Altar.

These lyrics tell the same story a little differently. This version is set before the battle with the Greeks and is a request for God to intervene so that the Temple can be restored. After God fulfills God’s promise, then we will go about rededicating the Temple and singing God’s praises.

The lesson: God is on both sides of the miracle. God is in miraculous defeat and God is in the courage to ask for help when taking that first step seems impossible.

Like the Maccabees, this past Sunday we took a huge step in rededicating our sacred space. Congregants of all ages came together to label, sort, break down, and throw away things in our synagogue to make room for more places to “do Jewish." A huge thank you to Jon Alper and Harold Eichenholz for leading Sunday’s cleaning effort, to Nikki and Felice Zeldin for setting up our party afterward, and to all of our volunteers that day. A special thank you to Lloyd Zeldin for all of his cleaning and organizing leading up to Sunday so that we could best focus our efforts. It was especially meaningful to gather around the fully lit menorah at the end of the party. I felt the true meaning of Hanukkah–being able to safely practice Judaism to the fullest extent in a building that we have cared for physically.

Hanukkah may be over, but the party isn’t! I hope to see many people gathered inside our social hall this Sunday at 11:30 for our Neighbors in Conversation brunch, featuring more delicious winter holiday foods. Together with our friends from St. Judes we will continue to explore miracles in our own lives and during this season.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: November 26, 2021

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

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

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

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

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Rabbi Bender

Ta Shema: November 5, 2021

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

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

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

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

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


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Chaya Bender

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

Ta Shema: October 29, 2021

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

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

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

Chodesh Tov and Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Bender


Let My Voice be a Hammer 

--Rabbi Rachel Greengrass


Mattathias was just a man,

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

Judith was just a woman,

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

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

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

From loss of life–

From loss of spirit–

From forgetting what it means to be Israel

Being Israel means to struggle and fight

Being Israel means standing up when others would push us down

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

Being Israel means speaking out against tyranny, against prejudice,

It means letting your voice be the mouth piece of God

Rising above fear

So, God, let my voice be a hammer

Let it break down walls,

Build homes and community,

Strike out against injustice

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

Let it smash indifference

Let it ring the eardrums of those who would silence us

Because I am Israel.

I struggle with the divine,

I will not be kept quiet

Let my voice be a hammer

Like Mattathias and Hertzl, like Judith, and Nofrat



Rabbi Chaya Bender

Bnai Israel Congregation


C. 910-547-7595

Ta Shema: October 8, 2021

Dear Bnai Israel Family,

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

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bender

Dear Wilmington area Neighbors,

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

So, if you have not yet received a vaccination, we plead with you to do so. To find a location to receive your free vaccine, please click here:

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


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

Ta Shema: October 1, 2021

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

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

Click here for Cheshvan Autumn Nights

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


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Mon, February 6 2023 15 Shevat 5783