Congregation Beth El
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Congregation Blog

IMG_4630001Are you… Looking to rejuvenate and energize your soul after a challenging and busy week? Looking to make new friends and spend time in a friendly environment? Looking to reconnect to Jewish life in a warm and inviting environment? You’re at the right place! Join us tonight, Friday January 12, at 7p.m. for song and soul filled Kabbalat shabbat.

Tomorrow morning, Saturday January 13, at 9 a.m. we have our Shabbat morning services. Torah service at around 9:45 and children’s services at 10:30. With heartfelt gratitude to Bob Miller for sponsoring a lovely kidish lunch immediately following services in memory of his late mother and our beloved friend, Marion Miller, of blessed memory!

Cantor Ben-Moshe’s weekly message:
This week’s parshah, Vaera, moves us deeper into the story of the Exodus and the beginning of the Ten Plagues. Interestingly, these plagues were all natural phenomena which could have occurred at any time. There was nothing “miraculous “ about them per se. Rather, it was our ancestors’ view of them that made them miraculous. Our ancestors saw in these natural phenomena wonders and miracles, the “Hand of God”. Rabbi Professor Max Kadushin of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America called the outlook of Judaism “normative mysticism”-that is, that we are enjoined to see everything around us as not merely physical but metaphysical as well. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called this “Radical Amazement”, the capacity to see even the most mundane things and events as wondrous. May we all cultivate that capacity in ourselves, to see the world, God’s Creation, as not ordinary but extraordinary. Shabbat Shalom.

Sunday School with the BERS resumes THIS Sunday January 14 at 10 a.m.
Candle lighting in Austin is at 5:32 p.m.

Heart-stopping Basketball Game and Camaraderie with the Men’s Club:
While the men’s club strives to model behavior for the congregation and community, they did not set the best example on their outing Wednesday night. They were up way past their normal bedtime! There was a good reason, of course. The men’s club was out for a fun evening at the UT vs TCU basketball game. The game was extremely close throughout and there were many times when UT had the lead but TCU drew close and tied the game with only seconds remaining. The game then went into overtime and the men’s club remained dedicated to the home team. The battle between the TCU Horned Frogs and the UT Longhorns was intense and extremely close. Overtime was a battle of wills and determination. But at the last second, TCU tied the score and sent the game into a second overtime. Despite pressing work the next day and a family and children at home, the men’s club stayed to support the home team. UT won the toss of the second overtime but their tall player, MO fouled out, sending dismay to the crowd. UT scored in the remaining minute with a free throw and TCU drove with seconds left on the clock. Again, men’s club remained loyal and steadfast to the house team. TCU failed with the final drive and the crowd erupted in excitement. The men’s club were very relieved that there was not a third overtime. The evening was well worth the ticket price and the company was great. Stay tuned for more great events.

Inspiring Strategic planning meeting last Sunday! Please hold the date for Sunday January 28 from 2-4 and plan to attend.

Sunday school resumes this Sunday January 14 at 10 a.m. We are so excited to welcome back our BERS.

Community News: Austin Jewish Business Network (AJBN) : Please join us to learn from Stephanie Puente, President of CoreFactor Transformative Coaching and Certified Life Mastery Consultant through the Life Mastery Institute, about “The Extraordinary Power of A Clear Vision.” This month’s meeting is January 16, 2018, at The Frisco Diner 6801 Burnet Road, Austin, TX in the glass atrium on the Burnet road side of the building.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks – Overcoming Setbacks.
At first, Moses’ mission seemed to be successful. He had feared that the people would not believe in him, but God had given him signs to perform, and his brother Aaron to speak on his behalf. Moses “performed the signs before the people, and they believed. And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.” (Ex. 4: 30-31?)
But then things start to go wrong, and continue going wrong. Moses’ first appearance before Pharaoh is disastrous. Pharaoh refuses to recognise God. He rejects Moses’ request to let the people travel into the wilderness. He makes life worse for the Israelites. They must still make the same quota of bricks, but now they must also gather their own straw. The people turn against Moses and Aaron: “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Ex. 5: 21).
Moses and Aaron return to Pharaoh to renew their request. They perform a sign – they turn a staff into a snake – but Pharaoh is unimpressed. His own magicians can do likewise. Next they bring the first of the plagues, but again Pharaoh is unmoved. He will not let the Israelites go. And so it goes, nine times. Moses does everything in his power and finds that nothing makes a difference. The Israelites are still slaves.
We sense the pressure Moses is under. After his first setback, at the end of last week’s parsha, he turns to God and bitterly complains: “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all” (Ex. 5: 22-23).
In this week’s parsha, even though God has reassured him that he will eventually succeed, he replies, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?” (Ex. 6: 12).
There is an enduring message here. Leadership, even of the very highest order, is often marked by failure. The first Impressionists had to arrange their own exhibition because their work was rejected by the Paris salons. The first performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring caused a riot, with the audience booing throughout. Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime despite the fact that his brother Theo was an art dealer.
So it is with leaders. Lincoln faced countless setbacks during the civil war. He was a deeply divisive figure, hated by many in his lifetime. Gandhi failed in his dream of uniting Muslims and Hindus together in a single nation. Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison, accused of treason and regarded as a violent agitator. Churchill was regarded as a spent force in politics by the 1930s, and even after his heroic leadership during the Second World War was voted out of office at the first General Election after the war was over. Only in retrospect do heroes seem heroic and the many setbacks they faced reveal themselves as stepping stones on the road to victory.
In every field, high, low, sacred or secular, leaders are tested not by their successes but by their failures. It can sometimes be easy to succeed. The conditions may be favourable. The economic, political or personal climate is good. When there is an economic boom, most businesses flourish. In the first months after a general election, the successful leader carries with him or her the charisma of victory. In the first year, most marriages are happy. It takes no special skill to succeed in good times.
But then the climate changes. Eventually it always does. That is when many businesses, and politicians, and marriages fail. There are times when even the greatest people stumble. At such moments, character is tested. The great human beings are not those who never fail. They are those who survive failure, who keep on going, who refuse to be defeated, who never give up or give in. They keep trying. They learn from every mistake. They treat failure as a learning experience. And from every refusal to be defeated, they become stronger, wiser and more determined. That is the story of Moses’ life in last week’s parsha and in this.
Jim Collins, one of the great writers on leadership, puts it well:
The signature of the truly great versus the merely successful is not the absence of difficulty, but the ability to come back from setbacks, even cataclysmic catastrophes, stronger than before … The path out of darkness begins with those exasperatingly persistent individuals who are constitutionally incapable of capitulation. It’s one thing to suffer a staggering defeat… and entirely another to give up on the values and aspirations that make the protracted struggle worthwhile. Failure is not so much a physical state as a state of mind; success is falling down, and getting up one more time, without end.[1]
Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner once wrote a powerful letter to a disciple who had become discouraged by his repeated failure to master Talmudic learning:
A failing many of us suffer is that when we focus on the high attainments of great people, we discuss how they are complete in this or that area, while omitting mention of the inner struggles that had previously raged within them. A listener would get the impression that these individuals sprang from the hand of their creator in a state of perfection . . .
The result of this feeling is that when an ambitious young man of spirit and enthusiasm meets obstacles, falls and slumps, he imagines himself as unworthy of being “planted in the house of God” . . .
Know, however, my dear friend, that your soul is rooted not in the tranquility of the good inclination, but in the battle of the good inclination . . . The English expression, “Lose a battle and win the war,” applies. Certainly you have stumbled and will stumble again, and in many battles you will fall lame. I promise you, though, that after those losing campaigns you will emerge from the war with laurels of victory on your head . . . The wisest of men said, “A righteous man falls seven times, but rises again” (Proverbs 24:16). Fools believe the intent of the verse is to teach us that the righteous man falls seven times and, despite this, he rises. But the knowledgeable are aware that the essence of the righteous man’s rising again is because of his seven falls.[2]
Rabbi Hutner’s point is that greatness cannot be achieved without failure. There are heights you cannot climb without first having fallen.
For many years, I kept on my desk a quote from Calvin Coolidge, sent by a friend who knew how easy it is to be discouraged. It said, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” I would only add, “And seyata diShmaya, the help of Heaven.” God never loses faith in us even if we sometimes lose faith in ourselves.
The supreme role model is Moses who, despite all the setbacks chronicled in last week’s parsha and this, eventually became the man of whom it was said that he was “a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were undimmed and his energy unabated” (Deut. 34: 7).
Defeats, delays and disappointments hurt. They hurt even for Moses. So if there are times when we too feel discouraged and demoralised, it is important to remember that even the greatest people failed. What made them great is that they kept going. The road to success passes through many valleys of failure. There is no other way.

2018Start off the year 2018 (20 Chai) right with our lovely, song-filled Kaballat Shabbat services at 7:00 p.m. Friday January 5. We would really love to see you.

Cantor Ben-Moshe’s weekly message:
Our parshah this week is called Shemot, which is the eponymous first parshah of the Book of Exodus. The parshah begins “V’eleh shemot B’nei Yisrael haba’im Mitzrayimah….”, “And these are the names (shemot) of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt….” The Sages interpret this verse to mean that B’nei Yisrael kept their Hebrew names, and thus their culture, even through the darkest days of bondage in Egypt, and were thus worthy of redemption. It is no easy task being a minority amidst a large and powerful culture-whether that is ancient Egypt or modern North America. Our challenge is to live fully in this place while preserving who we are at our core-not merely some undifferentiated mass of descendants of immigrants, but the descendants of Yisrael, the one who strove with the Divine as well as with humans. Let us resolve in this new secular year to be the best Jews that we can be, and live up to the best example of our ancestors. Shabbat Shalom.

Sunday School with the BERS
resumes Sunday January 14 at 10 a.m.

Candle lighting in Austin is at 5:27 p.m.

2018 Beth El Planning Meeting –
Sunday January 7 at 10:30 a.m. at Beth El
Please plan to attend and help us vision for an excellent 2018! Open to all members of Beth El – please come!
We’ll have yummy bagels and coffee!

Beth El Men’s Club Event:
Wednesday January 10 UT Men’s Basketball game – UT vs TCU. Game at 8 p.m. RSVP to Open to all in the Jewish community. Car pool from Beth El at 7 p.m. We are getting tickets this weekend, so please send in your RSVP.

Parashat Hashavua from Rabbi Peter Tarlow Rabbi Emeritus of Texas A&M and Director of the Center for Jewish Hispanic Relations.

We begin a new year with a new book of the Bible. The Hebrew name for the Bible’s second book is Sefer Shmot (the book of names), and its first parashah is also called by the same name: Parashat Shmot.

This is a book that takes us from the universal, as expressed in Genesis, to the national. It is a book about us, about who we are, about our successes and our failures, about our pre-national strengths and weaknesses. If Genesis is an idealistic book, Exodus *Shmot” is a realistic book. The text begins by emphasizing not lofty ideals but by presenting us with a simple listing of names.

The book’s first parashah covers Exodus 1:1- 6:1 and sets the stage not only for Israel’s enslavement but also its liberation. In reality, the Bible reports the enslavement of Israel in only a few verses (1: 8-14) and among these verses the most famous is: “VaYakam melech chadash al Mitzrayim asher lo yada et Yosef/There then arose a new government in Egypt that was unaware of everything that Joseph had done for that nation” (1:8).

From this verse it will take over half the book for Israel to regain its national liberty. Is there a lesson here? Is the text teaching us that it is a lot easier to enslave a nation than it is to free it? Is this first parashah teaching us that weakness leads to slavery? Is the book also teaching us that once lost, it takes both wisdom and perseverance to regain freedom?

Perhaps we best understand this concept when we note that Moses’ had to deal with the people’s almost schizophrenic attitude toward freedom. Like so many people, right down to those of today, there was (and still is) both a fear and love of freedom. On one hand, most people claim that they want to be free, but on the other hand, there is a fear of freedom’s responsibilities. The Children of Israel’s contradictory attitudes toward freedom would plague Moses throughout his journey, from Egyptian slavery to his point of entrance into the Promised Land. As we debate how much government is too much we note that the issues raised in this week’s parashah are very much still with us today. .

Exodus argues that to be free one must have a passion for freedom and to be willing to sacrifice for it. Passion is a substance that burns and is not consumed. It would then take a man such as Moses to notice the passion of the bush that burnt but was not consumed to win back the national will necessary for the nation’s freedom.

A lesson for this week may be that freedom is all too easily lost and it is won back only with great difficulty. To cite the “Hagadah” of Passover, perhaps this is a lesson that must be relearned “b’chol dor vador” in each and every generation. Do you agree?

An inspiring talk by Rabbi Sacks for your enjoyment: Shabbat shalom!

VisionPlease join us for the end of the secular year Friday night services at 7:00 P.M. tonight, Friday December 29.

Cantor Ben-Moshe’s weekly message: Yitzhak Ben-Moshe

Sefer B’reshith, the Book of Genesis, closes this Shabbat with Parshat Vayyehi. In our parshah, Ya’akov/Yisrael senses his approaching death and blesses his children beforehand. His blessings are prophetic-he predicts the future of the Tribes of Israel. The Sages used to say “The deeds of our ancestors are a sign and an omen for their descendants”. The stories of the Bible often presage the vicissitudes of Jewish history. We are very much influenced by our past, even as we move forward to our future-but we should not be so tied to what has been that we cannot adapt to what will be. May we always be able to find that proper balance, in the new secular year to come and beyond. Shabbat Shalom.

Candle lighting in Austin is at 5:22 p.m.

****** Sisterhood get together and book club event is scheduled for Thursday January 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the home of Anita Lavie – close to Beth El. Please let us know if you need a ride and we will happily find you one. We don’t want you to miss! RSVP to Shereen Russo Canady

******* 2018 Beth El Planning Meeting

Sunday January 7 at 10:30 a.m. at Beth El

Please plan to attend and help us vision for an excellent 2018! Open to all members of Beth El – please come!
We’ll have yummy bagels and coffee!

******** Beth El Men’s Club Event:

Wednesday January 10 UT Men’s Basketball game – UT vs TCU. Game at 8 p.m. RSVP to Open to all in the Jewish community. Car pool from Beth El at 7 p.m.

Community News: From The Austin Jewish Academy. Robyn Lindenberg

Join us on the evening of January 10 to hear from Head of School Cheryl Hersh and chat with parents just like you who have chosen Austin Jewish Academy for their children. Hosted by AJA parents Allison and Bryan Caplovitz at their home.

RSVP today and find out how an AJA education can enrich yours and your children’s lives!

latke makersPlease note that we have our lovely Friday night services at 7:00 P.M. tonight, Friday December 22

Shabbat morning services this Saturday December 23 at 9 a.m. with the Torah service at 9:45 a.m. Children’s story time at 10:30 as well as a delicious lunch courtesy of the shabbat shefs at noon. See you there!

Cantor Ben-Moshe’s weekly message:
This week we read in Parshat Vayiggash about the reunion of Yoseph and his family, and of Ya’akov’s migration to Egypt. One can only imagine how our ancestors felt as they came from the provincial backwater of Canaan to Egypt, the most advanced civilization of the ancient world. For all of them, Yoseph included, the temptation must have been great to abandon their own language and culture and to assimilate into Egyptian society. Of course, they did not, but rather maintained their identity. The Sages teach that it was the preservation of their identity which made them worthy of redemption. As we conclude Hanukkah, the celebration of our People’s refusal to assimilate into the advanced Hellenic culture of 2000 years ago, let us resolve to remain Jews as our ancestors did, and to let our culture and our spiritual teachings enrich the world. Shabbat Shalom.

Candle lighting in Austin is at 5:18 p.m.

Photos of the lovely Hanukkah party at Beth El. Thank you to the tireless latkes makers, Caleb, Dani, Herschel and Doris, Yosef and Kevin; hotdog griller extraordinaire Nathan; Guy the awesome sufganiot maker; and all who helped in so many ways, big and small! The music by Mark, Michel and Guy Ben-Moshe of Los Klezmeros was amazing and we had such a lovely and meaningful evening. See you next year!

Sisterhood get together and book club event is scheduled for January 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the home of Anita Lavie – close to Beth El. Please let us know if you need a ride and we will happily find you one. We don’t want you to miss!

2018 Beth El Planning Meeting –
Sunday January 7 at 7 p.m. at Beth El
Please plan to attend and help us vision for an excellent 2018! Open to all members of Beth El – please come!

Beth El Men’s Club Event:
Wednesday January 10 UT Men’s Basketball game – UT vs TCU. Game at 8 p.m. RSVP to Open to all in the Jewish community.

Parashat Hashavua from Rabbi Peter Tarlow Rabbi Emeritus of Texas A&M and Director of the Center for Jewish Hispanic Relations.
This week’s parashah is called “VaYigash”. You will find VaYigash, toward the end of the Book of Genesis in chapters 44:18-47:27.
This section deals with the great climax of the Joseph stories, that of Joseph’s revealing himself to his brothers and the reunification between Joseph and his father, Jacob. The text is layered with meanings and filled with questions. One could write whole books just about this week’s parashah.

The text informs us that after Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, he sends them back to Canaan to bring Jacob to him. In chapter 45:24 we read “Vayishlach et achiv vyelchu, vayamru alehem “al tirgzu baderech!” It is hard to hear the tones or cadences of the Hebrew in a foreign tongue, but the verse might be translated as: “So he sent his brothers back to Canaan saying to them: ‘behave now, do not get into any arguments along the way.'”

This statement raised multiple questions. For example, why did it take Joseph so long to tell his father that he was alive? Surely he knew that his father, believing that his favorite son was dead had to be suffering. In a like manner, there is a certain irony in the fact that the younger brother is now speaking to his older brothers as if they were children, telling them not to fight. For the most part the brothers got along well with each other; it was Joseph with whom they had a problem!

Was Joseph playing the role of a petulant parent toward his older brothers or was this statement a giant put down? Perhaps Joseph was being a psychologist realizing that siblings often do quarrel. Often we become angry at those whom we love the most. Joseph seems to be warning his brothers to remember their task is to save their father from the grips of a famine and not to r-g-z (get angry, blow up, lose one’s temper).

Perhaps the text is teaching us that we need to remember the purpose of our tasks. Is the text reminding us that we should not get distracted by side issues nor should we allow petty grievances to blind us to our ultimate goals? As such, this part of the Joseph story has a great deal to teach all of us including the world’s leaders. How would you interpret this tale?