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

Ta Shema: September 10, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Chaya Bender


Sonnet for our second

COVID Rosh HaShanah


I don't want to reckon with my choices:

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

(should I mask, is this safe, what if

we meet outside and never breathe together?)

I don't want to query who will live

and who will die, who by wildfire and who

by flooded subway, who intubated and alone

and who will have enough while others lack.

I just want all of us to thrive: our hearts

at ease, our hopes in reach at last.

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

Remind me the world is born again each year --

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

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

Ta Shema: August 27, 2021

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



Go to your broken heart.

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

To get one, be sincere.

Learn sincerity of intent by letting

life enter because you’re helpless, really,

to do otherwise.

Even as you try escaping, let it take you

and tear you open

like a letter sent

like a sentence inside

you’ve waited for all your life

though you’ve committed nothing.

Let it send you up.

Let it break you, heart.

Broken-heartedness is the beginning

of all real reception.

The ear of humility hears beyond the gates.

See the gates opening.

Feel your hands going akimbo on your hips,

your mouth opening like a womb

giving birth to your voice for the first time.

Go singing whirling into the glory

of being ecstatically simple.

Write the poem.


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

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


Click here for Selihot Night Live 2021 - YouTube



Selichot Learning Schedule

L'Shana Tovah, A Sweet Year

Rabbi Bender

Ta Shema: August 6, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bender


Sun, September 26 2021 20 Tishrei 5782