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

Click Here for Rabbi Chaya Bender's Bio

Ta Shema: 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.

 

B'Shalom,

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 ExploringJudaism.org, 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:

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/eli-talks/we-were-all-at-sinai-the-transformative-power-of-inclusive-torah/

To learn more about Rabbi Tuchman, you can visit her website: https://rabbituchman.com/

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!


THE FIRST ADAR
--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
Simplythebest53@yahoo.com

Rabbi Chaya Bender
rabbi@bnaiisraelilm.com

 

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

president@bnaiisraelilm.com 
910-617-1264 

 

Rabbi Chaya Bender

rabbi@bnaiisraelilm.com

910-547-7595

 

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.

B'shalom,
​​​​​​​
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

 

B'Shalom,

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Bnai Israel Congregation

Website: bnaiisraelilm.shulcloud.com

C. 910-547-7595

Ta Shema: October 8, 2021

Dear Bnai Israel Family,

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

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bender


Dear Wilmington area Neighbors,

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Ta Shema: October 1, 2021

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

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

Click here for Cheshvan Autumn Nights

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

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Ta Shema: September 10, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Chaya Bender

 

Sonnet for our second

COVID Rosh HaShanah

 

I don't want to reckon with my choices:

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

(should I mask, is this safe, what if

we meet outside and never breathe together?)

I don't want to query who will live

and who will die, who by wildfire and who

by flooded subway, who intubated and alone

and who will have enough while others lack.

I just want all of us to thrive: our hearts

at ease, our hopes in reach at last.

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

Remind me the world is born again each year --

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

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

Ta Shema: August 27, 2021

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

 

Path

Go to your broken heart.

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

To get one, be sincere.

Learn sincerity of intent by letting

life enter because you’re helpless, really,

to do otherwise.

Even as you try escaping, let it take you

and tear you open

like a letter sent

like a sentence inside

you’ve waited for all your life

though you’ve committed nothing.

Let it send you up.

Let it break you, heart.

Broken-heartedness is the beginning

of all real reception.

The ear of humility hears beyond the gates.

See the gates opening.

Feel your hands going akimbo on your hips,

your mouth opening like a womb

giving birth to your voice for the first time.

Go singing whirling into the glory

of being ecstatically simple.

Write the poem.

 

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

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

 

Click here for Selihot Night Live 2021 - YouTube

 

 

Selichot Learning Schedule

L'Shana Tovah, A Sweet Year

Rabbi Bender

Ta Shema: August 6, 2021

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bender

 

Mon, June 27 2022 28 Sivan 5782