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Reconstructing Judaism's statement on the formation of a New Israeli Government

11/21/2022 10:45:22 AM


This statement was posted on Reconstructing Judaism's website on November 18, 2022:

Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association fully endorse and support the recent statement made by the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) on the formation of the new Israeli Government. WUPJ is the international network of the Reform, Liberal, Progressive and Reconstructionist movements, serving an estimated 1.8 million members worldwide in more than 1,250 congregations in over 50 countries. The WUPJ statement reads as follows:
"The State of Israel and the world’s Jewish Diaspora communities have a relationship built on a common history and shared values.
The reality of a ruling coalition in Israel that will include dozens of Knesset members who freely express racist, homophobic and anti-democratic beliefs is frightening and is an anathema to Progressive Judaism.
It has potential catastrophic consequences for both Israel’s democratic character and Israel-Diaspora relations.
The World Union for Progressive Judaism calls on Benjamin Netanyahu to use his return to Israel’s premiership to create a broad and centrist Government that is embracing of human and economic rights and dignity, instead of one that will further normalize Kahanist and other ultra-Nationalists.
Putting individuals in high office who seek to further alienate Diaspora and Progressive Jews will serve no good end."
Rabbi Sergio Bergman
WUPJ President
Carole Sterling
WUPJ Chair

Chayei Sarah (The Lives of Sarah): Taking stock of our own transitions

11/15/2022 10:05:52 AM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

As we celebrate Shabbat this Friday night at Brandeis with the support of our Amazing Musical Ensemble, we take a peak at this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah. I have been thinking a lot about transitions, and I noticed the theme of transitions throughout this portion. There are moments when transitions happen by choice, or not by choice, and when we see how people respond to their own or others’ transitions. Spoiler alert: Rebecca is asked if she wants to go with Isaac and she says yes. It appears to be a choice, not usually given women at that time....

Transitions are part of life. We can be in transition for many reasons. Sometimes the transitions can be harder than other times, even when it might be an expected change. As a chaplain and as a rabbi, I have accompanied many people in their times of transition and of course, I have had my own share of them. I realize Or Shalom is in transition.

Rabbi Katie is no longer our rabbi, we have a new building, a new Executive Director, an Interim Rabbi and we are cautiously starting to meet in person during an uncertain time.

I invite you to join me Saturday morning at Brandeis from 10–11:30 am to share how you feel about Rabbi Katie’s departure, (not “what Or Shalom should be doing now”, but how are you feeling) and to listen to others. If you are experiencing other transitions in your life, I invite you to join as well.

During our precious time together, I will share some Torah about transitions from this week’s parashah. I will invite those who want to share how they feel, to be witnessed by our group without offering responses. We will end our morning together with hopes for Or Shalom and one another.

If you wish to attend but are unable to do so, or prefer a private meeting, please contact me at and we can set up a time to talk.

This will be an RSVP event. Please email Amy at if you plan to come.












Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

or Shalom is thriving!

11/10/2022 09:36:58 AM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

When I started working with Or Shalom in October, I was impressed by so much of this community’s resiliency, warmth, and commitment. In a short period of time, I have met many of you and heard your hopes and dreams, your grief, and your visions for how the Or Shalom community will be energized in our new building. I need to say, I feel we are thriving now. The building is just icing on the challah! (Is that a thing?)

Over the next few months, I will reflect back to you the various ways I feel we are thriving. But this month, I want to focus on one of our best-kept secrets: the Ensemble. Do you all recognize how fortunate we are to have this incredible music ensemble? I have worked with musicians (instrumentalists and singers) with various titles in the past. Cantors, choirs, cantorial soloists, Musical Prayer Leaders, a chazzanut group, drummers, guitarists, and pianists. Some were good, some great, but it was always a collaboration between the rabbi’s and musicians’ visions. And there were lots of rehearsals. I grew accustomed to either working a cappella or working with one singer/guitarist at a time with lots of practice sessions.

I have never worked with professionals like our ensemble. Guitar, cello, bass, percussion, clarinet, voice. The sound they create is life-giving, uplifting, surreal, fun, and prayerful. They understand that although I can sing, I don’t always start on the same key or know where to find the key they give me. They have been forgiving and very supportive, helping to develop a system that works so all of us will not just shine, but serve the community well. We all want the same thing: to guide our community in prayer. But they do it with such grace.

I can’t tell you how lucky I am to work with such great people and my only prayer and hope is that they feel as held by the rest of us as they hold and guide us every night they join.

We are meeting in person for services at least twice a month. Whenever we do, some part of the ensemble blesses us with their gifts. Please come and join us. You won’t be sorry you did.

Please feel free to contact me at I work half-time, but will be happy to get back to you as soon as I can. I want to get to know as many members and families as I can.

Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

When we stay and when we go

10/31/2022 03:35:21 PM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

A few weeks ago, I asked people who attended Friday night services what motivated them to leave their homes and find their way to Brandeis for services on a Friday night, when there were many other things competing for their time. People said such a variety of things, some very surprising. The music, the community, loyalty to our tradition, to learn, to remember, to honor our ancestors, to say Kaddish, and so much more. It’s always good for us to think about what motivates us and what we are seeking. Our answers will always differ; we create a beautiful tapestry of community. When we stay and when we go in general is one thing that Lech L’cha (this week’s Torah portion) invites us to think about. The Hebrew for the name of the parasha, Lech L’cha, is interpreted so many ways, all related to ways and reasons we go.

The rabbis over the years have interpreted the phrase lech l’cha in the following ways: 

  • Go to yourself
  • Go to your soul  
  • Go learn who you are meant to be
  • Go become that person who will be a blessing to the world
  • Some say that although “lech l’cha” was said to Abraham by God, each soul hears this invitation.
  • The Ishbitzer Rebbe, a Chassidic rebbe, said it means we are to leave our habits, and all that is comfortable behind.

In all of these interpretations, there is a going; but the destination is unclear by the words lech l’cha alone, and even in the phrase which comes after, “where God will show you.”

I ask us all to think about when we stay and when we go, and what motivates us to choose one over the other?

This Friday at services, we will explore how Lech L’cha can guide our lives, especially at times when we are not sure where we are to go. Or maybe we will learn to stay and appreciate the place where we are. I look forward to seeing you there.

Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

A Completion of one cycle of time

10/31/2022 03:22:05 PM


Reb Ezra Weinberg

Dear ones of mine,

A post-holiday season greeting of sorts.

Some rabbis are relieved when the new month of Cheshvan arrives. I generally feel a loss. After such a relentless season of holidays, here is my attempted summary. This is what goes on inside of me every year at the end of the Tishrei cycle of Jewish holidays.  At the end of a cycle so full of life, so full of energy, so full of prayer and promise and hope, I yearn to carry it with me. I yearn to carry this crucial sense of returning. Returning to a deep love, a love of self, of family, of friends, of tribe, and our collective future on this planet.

If you were a part of my journey the past 80 days, you may find yourself somewhere in here these two offerings / reflections.... 

Sending love to you all, (feel free to forward to anyone who might want to see this).

M'ayin Yavoh Ezri! 

From Where, to Where – Will My Help Come? (Psalm 121)

to Vermont

From Philadelphia 

to San Francisco 

From the new building in Bernal Heights 

to Beth Israel in Berkeley

From square dancing at Ashkenaz

to dukhaning at the Mission Minyan

From sounding shofar on the beach 

to running from microbes

From Spiritual Embodied Practice 

to Hardly Strictly Elvis Costello

From borrowing hair ties 

to getting friends to ask each other for forgiveness 

From reminding friends that we need each other 

to disrupting family patterns 

From amazing Mexican food 

to old friends and their new children (to me)

From new friends 

to expanding family 

From the Albany Bulb art

to teenagers in tifilin

From imagining the Center of Jewish Living Arts 

to seeking redwoods but only finding eucalyptuses  

From the ensemble 

to healing services 

From ride shares

to fog-lifting walks in Bernal Park

From divorce podcasts

to tefila podcasts

From Daf Yomi: Ketubot 

to crossing the bridges 

From feeling the friends who've lost parents 

to a really cold outdoor mikveh

From the shehechiyanu hazaka 

to Kohenet and Kehuna

From full out loud Birkat Hamazon

to contagious dancing in the Sukkah

From Torah Orah - A Torah that Illuminates

to a truly FULL Hallel that lifts me up

From Yiddish speaking friends 

to surprise opportunities for prayer leading at home

From Pitka Tava 

to Jr. Congregation and the old tunes 

From the entire birthday cake falling onto the deck 

to the pinnacle holiday of Shmini Atzeret 

From asking for rain and getting it

to All Streams One Source

From Romemu, Kohenet and Koren siddurim

to Artscroll Interlinear Transliterated 

From campfires, big Rebbe, and Sukkahfest: The Musical

to late night heart opening tisches 

From the 7th Hakafah

to Integration for Heshvan 

From 100 year celebrations and pilgrimages to old camps

to the Phillies going to the world series....


80 days…. Of the Tishrei Cycle

80 days of regaining our inner map.  

80 days of getting interested in our own liberation again

80 days of "Revoice’ing" and hearing what the “still small voice”  needs to express

80 days of expanding our notion of family and reclaiming biblical Hagar as our step mother 

80 days of contemplating my own origins as a Torah Family

80 days of disrupting the feeling of being frozen in my own stuck-ness        

80 days of inviting people to invite people to “ask me about my prayer practice.”

80 days of visioning a future through the lenses of the seven year cycle 

354 (days in the Hebrew calendar) - 80 =  274 days of integration and infusion.   

THIS is the year.  


To a new month... and a new season and a new cycle....

Chodesh Tov - A good month!  

R. Ezra

May you be inscribed in the book of life

10/17/2022 09:42:11 AM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

The High Holy Days are over, so what can this still mean to us?

During the Jewish High Holy days we pray to be inscribed in the Book of Life before the gates close, either at the end of Yom Kippur or some believe not until the end of Sukkot on Hoshana Rabba.  If taken literally, there is something that doesn’t seem right about this. Does it mean anyone who dies during the upcoming year or even during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur hasn’t prayed hard enough or hasn’t done enough teshuvah? Or their mistakes outweighed the good they did? 

As someone who has worked as a chaplain for many years and is close to numerous people struggling with life threatening diseases, this model can seem to cause harm by blaming the sick for their disease or death.

So why do I still pray my heart out during the holy days and still use this language? This year I experienced this strong message as an intense imperative to invite me to start the new year with the important lifegiving themes of the High Holy days, every day, not just during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur:

  • Facing our mortality and the fragility of life every day. This helps me increase my gratitude and be more mindful of every moment I am alive.
  • Turning our direction towards becoming our better selves.  How can I begin to find moments of forgiveness/compassion for self or others? 
  • Leaning on our ancestors and our sense of God/the Mystery. I do this through prayer, reflection, and acts of remembrance. 
  • Giving tzedakah. This helps me be aware of more than just myself. I also notice the unmet basic needs of so many, as well as the myriad ways to contribute to help affect change.

“May you be inscribed in the Book of Life” means to me “May you be engaged with life fully, always, not just during the High Holy Days”. With the Torah beginning this week with Breishit, let’s embrace a new beginning, and harvest the lifegiving learnings from the High Holy Days going forward.

Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield


10/11/2022 01:18:08 PM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

Torah from Rabbi Chaya’s Garden

I am so excited to continue our journey together, especially during this season of Sukkot, also called zman simchateinu, the time of our joy. Friday night we will begin at 6 p.m. in the Brandeis Sukkah by sitting together, singing a few songs, and waving the lulav and etrog. It might be cold to stay long, so we will then continue upstairs for services, followed by an oneg. And then on Saturday, if you want to linger in the Sukkah some more, join me after 11 a.m. after Sing Shalom led by Jeni Markowitz-Clancy for an informal schmooze and lunch (bring your own lunch).

During these precious times we will have an opportunity to learn about Sukkot, sing together, and share what we have harvested from the High Holy Days.

There are four mitzvot, or sacred obligations of Sukkot:

  • Sitting in the sukkah
  • Waving the lulav and etrog
  • Inviting in guests
  • Experiencing joy

Each one of these requires exploring more deeply. For example, what if we don’t feel joy? Rabbi Alan Lew, z”l, said that joy is when we fully embody each moment. I hear this as it isn’t about being happy. It is about experiencing something deeper. Authenticity. Someone in my sukkah said when we are grieving or sad about missing someone who has died, when we dig deeper, we often can find the joy in having loved them. I am interested in what your idea of joy might be and why you think we have been invited to feel joy at this time.
Hope to see you at one of the events this weekend or in the future. Bring a friend!

I am here for you. Please feel free to reach out to me if you need support or have something you want to discuss. I can be reached at I work half-time, so I will get back to you as soon as I can.  If you need urgent rabbinical support, call the Or Shalom line at 415-469-5542.

Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

01/12/2022 01:00:01 PM


Thu, December 8 2022 14 Kislev 5783