Category Archives: Events

Volunteer Arlington MLK Day of Service

Congregation Etz Hayim is a SPONSOR for this family-friendly event to benefit over 20 local non-profit organizations. Join your CEH friends as well as other community members to make this holiday a “day on rather than a day off” and work together to move closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community”.

Anyone can join us! There will be volunteer opportunities for people of all ages.

Location: Washington Lee High School

When: Monday, January 21, 8:30am – 12:00pm

Afterward, CEH friends will meet for lunch at Chesapeake Bagel Bakery at Lee-Harrison Shopping Center – around 1:00pm.

Please, CLICK HERE and register as soon as possible to get the volunteer job of your choice – especially if you are trying to sign up as a group of friends. This is a popular community event that fills quickly. For more information:

Questions, email Paula Levin-Alcorn:

–Paula Levin-Alcorn

What’s Jewish About Bubbies? Recap

On Sunday, November 18, 2018, grandparents, parents, and children gathered at CEH to learn “What’s Jewish About Bubbies?”

Bubby (plural: bubbies or bubbes) is a Yiddish term for grandmother. The Yiddish term for grandfather is Zayde. We call our grandparents many other terms of endearment (e.g., granny, pop-pop, savta, saba, mimi, grandpa), but bubbe and zayde are very well-known terms among many Jewish families.

Jewish law and tradition emphasize the responsibility to honor our parents and grandparents. From the Ten Commandments (“Honor Your Mother and Father”) to the recitation of our ancestors at every prayer service, we are reminded to show respect and reverence to the generations before us. Grandparents play an especially important role in teaching Jewish traditions to their families.

To celebrate grandparents, we ate cookies and milk, sang songs, read stories about Jewish values, created grandparent awards, and played grandparent bingo. We learned that the group strongly preferred chocolate chip cookies although gingerbread/ginger snaps were a strong runner up. Moreh Will taught us the Hebrew words for family members such as father (Abba) and mother (Ima). We also played several exciting games of dreidel in our new “spinagogue.” We had around 30 people ranging in age from newborn to grandparents.

The most important lesson of the day was how special it is to spend time with our families. Based on the success of this event, we are now planning another grandparent-focused celebration for Spring 2019.

Next Event: What’s Jewish About Libraries?

When: 02/10/2019

–Alexis Joyce, Laura Naide, Will Rivlin

Shabbat-Hanukkah Party

Our monthly first-Friday night potluck is turning into a Hanukkah party on December 7! And we’re serving up the latkes!

Join us for Shabbat services which begin at 6:15pm and end around 7:30pm. After kiddush and motzi, we’ll serve latkes to complement the potluck, sing songs with Moreh Will and play Hanukkah games. Bring your entire family!

When: Friday, December 7 here at CEH

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED! If you can help serve latkes or lead a Hanukkah game, please contact Naomi Harris at


2018 Artist Expo Recap

On November 4, hundreds of congregants and members of the greater Arlington community attended the 14th Annual Etz Hayim Artist Expo and Bake Sale.

The 14th Annual Etz Hayim Artist Expo and Bake Sale was once again a great success as a fundraiser and community-building activity. On Sunday, November 4, from 11:30am to 4pm, more than 30 vendors filled our converted sanctuary space with fine art photographs, pottery, jewelry, glassworks, Judaica, and so much more.

Several generous artists donated handmade textiles and other items to the raffle, which generated additional funds.

Though the bake sale was scheduled to begin at 11:30, the purchasing and noshing began well before then. Homemade cookies, cakes, challah, and other treats crafted by our own talented congregants earned more than $350 for our synagogue.

New in 2018, religious school families were further enticed to linger after school with opportunities to purchase bagged lunches made by CEH volunteers and free face painting for kids of all ages.

Preliminary estimates show that the artist expo and bake sale earned more than $4,000 for Etz Hayim, and the camaraderie generated was priceless.

Thank you to Naomi Harris and the Malovany family for their leadership and support to make the art expo such a success as well as the scores of volunteers who aided exhibitors, worked in the kitchen, toiled over ovens for the bake sale, and did so much more to execute a marvelous event!

Mike Stein’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Bar Mitzvah Speech

Shabbat shalom. Fifty years ago, I celebrated my bar mitzvah with this sedrah. I read the entire Torah – annual cycle, which I did not inflict on you today – and the haftarah. But I didn’t lead the service as well. And there’s one other thing I didn’t do. Because of the peculiarities of my preparation – we moved from Peoria to Milwaukee just a few months before my bar mitzvah – it never got explained to me that I was supposed to give a d’var Torah. Maybe that turned out for the best, because back then I didn’t have the experience and insight for what I’m about to say. So today I’m going to make up for that omission – in spades. Make yourselves comfortable, because I’m afraid this is going to rise to the level of an actual sermon.

In today’s reading, we have the famous story of the Tower of Bavel, or Babel as it’s more commonly known in English. Supposedly a bunch of people decided to build a city with a tower reaching to heaven. God took exception to this for some unexplainable reason – like they really were going to be able to reach heaven before the air got too thin to breathe, right? – and created all the different languages, so they couldn’t understand one another. And that’s why they stopped building the city and tower and scattered all over the world.

At the risk of being called a heretic, I don’t believe that story. There are many reasons to be skeptical. As I said, what did God have to be upset about? But to me, the main reason is this: people can misunderstand one another perfectly in the same language. Here’s the real story: some people thought the tower to heaven was symbolic, and some thought it was literal, and they got to arguing, and they completely unable to work together, so nothing got done. They split into red neighborhoods and blue neighborhoods, and then ….

OK, maybe that’s not what happened either. But I think that’s a lot more likely than the story we read today.

In “The Little Prince”, Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “Language is the source of misunderstanding”. That’s a clever turn of phrase, but I don’t believe that either. I think the biggest reason people misunderstand each other is because of the experiences, assumptions, and biases we bring to the conversation. People interpret the words – and the actions – of others through the lens of their own preconceptions.

People do this even when they are ignoring meanings that would be the immediate first choice for an independent newcomer who knew nothing about the speaker. The more we interpret according to our preconceptions, rather than actively listening and seeking the interpretation most favorable to the speaker, the more we build our own tower of Babel.

One reason for misunderstanding is different knowledge. Person A has facts that Person B doesn’t have. Think back – have you ever thought of a time when someone said something that didn’t make sense, until you found out a new piece of information – and then everything made sense? If someone misunderstands you, allow for the possibility that you know something they don’t – or that they know something you don’t. As Ben Zoma said, “Who is wise? One who learns from all people”. Be like Ben Zoma. And – a very important point – be willing to admit when you’re wrong. This will be on the test.

Unfortunately, nowadays we increasingly have the phenomenon of people knowing “facts” that aren’t so. The internet is a wonderful tool, but it also permits the unprecedented spread of misinformation. We assume that people are more often honest than dishonest, and we are particularly primed to believe things we are told by friends and family. So, another rule to follow is Abe Lincoln’s famous saying: don’t believe everything you see on the internet. Of course, Lincoln said it – I saw it on the internet! Before you spread the latest “send this to everyone you know” email, check it out. Google. If you can’t find a reliable source for it, it probably is fake news. Don’t spread it. Each bit of misinformation is another brick in the modern Tower of Babel.

Perhaps the most pernicious destroyer of communication: people are
subject to a phenomenon known as confirmation bias. We discount things
that don’t agree with our previous beliefs, but take anything that
agrees as further proof of the correctness of our beliefs. There’s a
saying: if you start with the assumption that someone is basically
good, they will probably prove you right. And if you start with the
opposite assumption, that same person will probably also prove you
right. People also hear what they want to hear, and avoid hearing what
they don’t.

Just yesterday I had a perfect example of the combination of this and the problem with the internet. Discussing the allegations against Kavanaugh, a friend of mine on Facebook said that the entire school was talking about it within days of it. I thought she was talking about the Ramirez incident. She said no, a classmate of Kavanaugh’s said it was Ford.

I couldn’t believe this. Why wasn’t it all over the news? So, I did some searching. In a long post, mostly about a priest accused of homosexual misconduct, someone said almost as an afterthought that in his four years at Georgetown Prep, he heard the story Ford was telling repeated dozens of times.

In a later clarification, it turned out that he was there twenty years after Kavanaugh, and all he meant was that he heard stories just like it. But someone heard what they wanted to hear, even though there was plenty of reason to doubt that interpretation. And then it got spread on the internet. And then people start accusing people of lying, and it goes downhill from there.

There’s a saying: never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity. I’m going to give you a rather extreme example.

About twenty years ago, websites were not what they are now. There was something called Usenet, a distributed bulletin board. One discussion group was called alt.revisionism. It was a group almost entirely devoted to Holocaust denial.

I was fascinated by this from a sociological perspective. How could these people believe that there was not a deliberate effort by the Nazis to wipe out the Jews? So, I joined the discussions.

As you might expect, there was a lot of overt antisemitism. A lot of the exchanges boiled down to “You’re a liar – no, you’re a liar”. I joined in the discussions and refrained from name-calling. I just posted facts, with sources. I got to know some of the “revisionists”, as they styled themselves. And I saw there were differences among them – they were not all just anti-Semites looking for one more way to smear Jews. A lot were, don’t get me wrong, but not all.

Some were ethnic Germans who were psychologically in denial. They could not believe that Germans could do such a horrible thing. It threatened their sense of self as a civilized nation.

Another person never expressed any animus towards Jews. After I learned more of his background, I would say he had what I might call a Don Quixote complex. He had a thing for attaching himself to hopeless causes, the lonely seeker after truth.

One of the most surreal experiences of my life was having dinner with Robert Faurisson, a Frenchman who was one of the leading Holocaust deniers. Also, at that dinner was the late journalist Christopher Hitchens, as well as the Don Quixote type I mentioned previously, who had invited me. Faurisson and I got on OK until I contradicted him – with a statement made by a different Holocaust denier! At that point it’s as if I became a non-person to him.

But the reason I mention all of this is because of one final character, and what happened between us. He was an actual, self-professed Nazi. During one discussion, he said something rather garbled. It made no sense to me. I posted that it was crazy.
The next day, though, I reconsidered. I looked again at what he wrote and found an interpretation that wasn’t crazy.

I posted an apology. Yes, to a Nazi. I stated my new understanding of what he had said, and said that while I disagreed with it, I couldn’t call it crazy. I said, “I don’t know if this will make any difference to him, but it does to me.” To my surprise, he responded to my message. “Actually, it does.”

He is no longer a Nazi. No, it didn’t happen in a blinding flash because of that exchange. But I would like to think that that little unexpected understanding – and my willingness to admit publicly that I was wrong (told you it was going to be on the test) – might have opened a small chink in his mental armor, one that over time grew, and allowed his personal Tower of Babel to crumble.

We live in some pretty scary times. Towers of Babel are going up all around us. Please don’t help build them higher. There are certainly evil people in the world. But there are also misguided people in the world, or ignorant, or mistaken. Try to stay open to the difference. We say that God keeps open the gates of repentance. Let us always do what we can to keep open the gates of understanding. Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Lia Bass Speech from Rosh Hashanah – Day 2

Today in the Torah we read the story of the binding of Isaac. I have spoken about this story many times, since it is a story that tugs at my heart strings. This year, I realized that this is a story that happens among Hinenis.

There are 3 times in Chapter 22 of the Book of Genesis that our ancestor, Abraham, says the word Hineni, which means “Here I am”.  In the first verse of the chapter, we read (Translation by Robert Alter):

“And it happened after these things that God tested Abraham. And God said to him “Abraham!” and he said, “here I am – hineni!”

When God calls Abraham, he responds immediately with Hineni!– Here I am! I can almost hear Abraham saying: God, so good to hear from you! I am excited to hear your voice, and to know what you have in store for me.

Abraham and Isaac travel with attendants for 3 days, and leave the attendants behind, walking up the rest of the way, just the 2 of them alone. In verse 7, we read:

And Isaac said to Avraham his father, “Father!”, and he said, “Here I am, Hineni, my son.” And he said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the offering?”

There is kindness in this Hineni, as Abraham shows tenderness to his child, trying to respond to him, to be present, even though he knows fully well what lies in the future. After the altar is built, and Abraham binds his child to the altar, Abraham takes the knife, ready to do what he believes God commanded him, which is to slaughter his son. In verse 11, we read the word Hineni for the 3rd time:

“And the Eternal’s messenger called out to him from the heavens and said, “Abraham, Abraham”, and he said “Here I am”, Hineni.”

The messenger of God showed up just in time, and before he did the unthinkable, Abraham listened to him.

Abraham had 3 meanings for his Hineni: to be present and excited, to show kindness, and to listen.

What is your Hineni?

The word Hineni, Here I am! is a term that conveys readiness, presence, concentration, attention, and listening. It gives a sense of excitement, an exclamation point following the words. Hineni, Here I am, ready to participate, work, do things, be present! Hineni is about being “All in”. Being all in is to be passionate about life, to grab the opportunities that life presents us, to fully accept the challenge of living an examined life. To be all in is to act with the belief that there is potential in our deeds, openness for wonder, a commitment to participate and perform to the best of our abilities, a willingness to listen, and a desire to show kindness. Every day we pray the Amidah 3 times, and at every Amidah we recall our ancestors, Abraham Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. I take this to mean that just as my ancestors had their unique relationship with God, I must find my own relationship with God, my own Hineni, following in the footsteps of my ancestors. In our tradition, we are supposed to learn from the example of our ancestors – but not follow them blindly. We don’t follow Abraham’s example as a husband or a parent. We follow Abraham’s Hineni moments as a brave, spiritual, loyal, and gifted statesman. A few examples are:

  • Abraham doesn’t hesitate to change as he listened to God’s voice, to leave his place and go to the place that God showed him.
  • Abraham showed kindness as 3 angels (disguised as 3 men) approached his tent in the middle of the day.

He made sure to feed them and make them comfortable.

  • Abraham fought for his family, showing loyalty during the war between the Kings.
  • Abraham did not shy away from bargaining with God for the fate of the two doomed towns, Sodomah and Gomorrah.
  • And he trusted in God and God’s promise, again and again, even as he aged, and the promise of offspring seemed to be more and more difficult to come true.

We learn many lessons from Abraham’s journey.

As Abraham trusted in God’s promise, we can together trust in God’s message of love and understanding between all, and usher a time of peace, creativity, and joint abundance, even when that promise seems to be so elusive and far-fetched.

As Abraham bargained with God for the fate of the cities, we can speak truth to people in power and stand for the rights of all people.

We can also continue our long tradition of speaking to God and being in relationship with God as we pray together in our Sanctuary.

As Abraham fought for his family, so we together can fight for our human family, for ensuring that we do not demean, dehumanize, and humiliate others, instead propping the downtrodden, raising the fallen, providing a helping hand to the oppressed.

In the same way that Abraham opened his tent for the visitors, as a community of faith, we can remain loyal to his example and open our community to other people of faith. We can open our community to the poor, the needy, and the immigrant.

Most of all, as Abraham had the courage to change, we have to be able to change, too.

Rosh Hashanah, in the Jewish tradition, is a time where we examine our actions in the year that passed, take a hard look at the parts of ourselves that need to change, ask for forgiveness from those we have hurt, and when faced with a similar situation, don’t fall prey to the same bad choices. Our traditions praises our ability to grow and change.

These are a few of the ways we can be inspired by Abraham’s Hineni moments to create our own Hineni moments.

Let me share a Hineni moment with you.

I have been here for 17 years. I came here on August, 2001. A few weeks after I arrived, September 11 happened. Today, September 11, we remember the devastating blow to our sense of security, and all the people who lost friends and family members in that cowardly attack. Yet, this Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of my 18th year with our congregation. My Hay year!

As most of you know, the Hebrew letters of the word Hay, which means being alive, have the numerical value of 18. The 18th year is a time to take stock, and also the beginning of a new cycle of life. We all have had plenty of Hineni moments together in the last 17 years, and I believe that as we go forth and move into this new hay, this new life, we can have plenty of new Hineni moments together.

The Talmud, in Massechet Bava Metziah (28b), tells us that in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, there was a stone, called Even To’an, the Lost and Found Stone. Whoever found an object went there. Whoever lost an object did the same. The finder stood and proclaimed that s/he found something, and the other would call out the identifying marks of the object, and then receive it back.

In our lives, we all experience losses, from the banal –our keys – to the loss of our loved ones.

Sometimes we lose our hope in the future, and sometimes we lose our innocence when historical events of the proportion of 9/11 happen. A lot of times we have reserves of happiness and optimism that can be shared. Having a Lost and Found Stone– a place of meeting, a place of sharing what we find and what we lose – is an amazing gift. Our congregation can be our modern Lost and Found Stone, a cornerstone of gathering, of restoring relationships and our faith in each other, in the power of community, a place of being all in, in a world so unpredictable.

A solid rock that is a place for giving and receiving, for saying Hineni to each other.

As we starts our 18th year together, our hay year together, what is our Hineni, our all in? Can we be that Lost and Found  Stone, in this complicated world? Can we believe in a culture of possibilities for our congregation? Can we dream up a culture of love, creativity, growth? Can we create a true place of meeting, full of motivation, of beautiful tefillah, belief in the future, openness to change and growth?

I believe in us, and I believe that we are that Even To’an, that wonderful place of meeting where we share our best, worship together,where we prop each other up, where we follow in Abraham’s footsteps and say Hineni to creating a better world.

May we learn from all the positive examples of our ancestor, stressing all that we share.

May we create our own Even To’an, dreaming about the possibilities of all the things we can do together, committing to each other, being all in, opening our hearts, ears and capabilities to each other.  May this be a time of Hineni, of being all in, for our community, our people, our country, and our world.

Rabbi Lia Bass Speech from Rosh Hashanah – Day 1

Take another look to the beautiful words she said during our Rosh Hashanah Celebration!

The author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivered a TED talk titled “The Danger of a Single Story”, about how stereotypes limit and shape our thinking. At the age of 9, she had read only classic British books, about princesses and castles, long flowing blond hair and valiant princes. As she started writing her own stories, they all involved white, blonde, blue eyed people that talked about the weather – a very far stretch from her middle class, Nigerian reality, where you never needed to talk about the weather, since it was always the same.

She tells a story of speaking at a US University where, during the question and answer session, a student said that it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers, like the father character in one of her novels. With a hint of irritation, she responded that she had just read a novel called American Psycho – and that it was such a shame that young Americans were serial killers.

The student had a single story about Nigeria – in his mind, based on his reading of a book, Nigeria was a whole country of people who abused and were abused. Ms. Adichie wanted him to see that her reality was as varied as his, and that one cannot create an image of a whole country based on a single story.

Our tradition is quite conscious of the dangers of a single story.

Let me give you an example. For Benjamin’s Bar Mitzvah, I made his tallit. In the Atarah, the neck piece, I quoted a verse from the Book of Deuteronomy: “And to Benjamin (Moses) said, you are a friend of God.”

In the end of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses blesses all the tribes, and since Jerusalem, and therefore the Temple, was in the territory of the Tribe of Benjamin, the tribe is depicted as a friend of God, and guardian of the Temple, our people’s main source of relationship with God during many centuries.

Yet, the Torah doesn’t want us to see a single-sided story. No one is one-dimensional.

In Chapter 49 of the Book of Genesis, Jacob calls his sons together before dying and gives each of them a “blessing.” I put quotation marks around the word blessing because while the Torah text defines it as both prophecy and a blessing, it is really more a curse. Here are the words to the Tribe of Benjamin: 27. “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the booty.”

What happened to the Tribe of Benjamin being God’s friend?

This description only makes sense when we know the gruesome story found about the tribe of Benjamin in the end of the Book of Judges, Chapters 19-21. In that part of the narrative, men from one city in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin are responsible for a savage attack on a young woman from the Tribe of Judah. That attack motivates a counter act from the other Israelites, escalating into a civil war. In the end, the tribe of Benjamin is almost wiped out from the people of Israel. Even in the Torah, there is no single story. The tribe of Benjamin has elements of both; a friend of God and a ravenous wolf. Had we only the Deuteronomy description, we would have a peaceful image of the Tribe of Benjamin. It wouldn’t be a full image. It would be a stereotype.

If we had only the story that uses the image of a ravenous wolf, we would be stereotyping, also, and we would be opening the possibility for a dangerous situation. The act was committed by some men, in one city, in the territory of one tribe. By depicting the whole tribe as animals that can be hunted, the Torah ends up creating fertile ground for a bloodbath. In the book Less than Human, Dr. David Livingstone Smith explains that when we equate people with animals, we limit our vision, and shape our perception in a way that has difficult consequences.

We dehumanize them, believing that while people may look like humans, where it really counts, they are animals, either vermin or beasts of prey that must be eliminated, one way or another. While we might be tempted to see comparisons of people to animals as mere talk, as nothing more than degrading metaphor, we must understand that dehumanization is not a way of talking. It’s a way of thinking that, sadly, comes all too easily to us. Dehumanization acts as a psychological lubricant, empowering us to perform acts that would, under other circumstances, be unthinkable.

We lose the perspective of what other people are: a collective of individuals that have an identity and community, people who can make choices, entitled to live according to their own goals. The danger of a single story, the danger of seeing people as less than human, is that it allows us the moral justification to commit atrocities and destruction. The psychologist and Harvard professor Herbert Kerman knew from bitter experience what happens when inhibitions against violence are lifted, since he survived the Nazi Holocaust. He concluded that there are psychological and social mechanisms that caused this to happen. The first is authorization: When people in positions of authority use demeaning language, and then verbally endorse acts of violence, the individual that carries out the savage act is less inclined to feel personally responsible, and therefore, less guilty in performing them. What follows is routinization. Following a rigid routine eliminates any need for making decisions, and with that no need to ask awkward moral questions. In other words, what we hear conditions our thinking, creates the single story that allows us to see others as non-humans, which then gives us the moral justification for their elimination. Before we say to ourselves that we don’t demean, dehumanize, and exterminate other people, we have to acknowledge the role of violence in our culture.

Professors Alan Page Fiske, from the University of California, LA, and Tage Shakti Rai, from Northwestern University, in their book entitled Virtuous Violence, explain that most violence is motivated by moral sentiments.

They write:

“Most people do not simply justify or excuse their violent actions after the fact; at the moment they act, people intend to cause harm or death to someone they feel should suffer or die.”

Most violence is intended to regulate relationships, and the one that does the violence, as well as the community around the perpetrator and the victim, perceive the action as correct, consistent with their cultural rules.

An example:

Many years ago, when my son, Benjamin, was 3 years old, I was in line at a children’s store to buy something for him. In the line right next to me, there was a mother, speaking to her children in a language I did not recognize. She had a sleeping baby in a carriage, a boy that seemed to be the same age as Benjamin, and 3 other older children. She was obviously not paying much attention to the 3-year-old, so he did what children his age do – jumped on the baby carriage, and woke up the baby, who started wailing. The mother immediately screamed at the boy, and slapped him hard across the face, sending him flying a few feet away. I was horrified. My first instinct was to scream at her, in moral outrage. After all, her hurt and broken child will be sharing this world with my child! Yet, not too long ago, parents and teachers had no hesitation to spank a child. Spare the rod and spoil the child, was the saying. After some reflection, I understood that I did not know the cultural norms for this other mother. I believe we were both acting according to our definitions of what is moral and what is not.

Today, all around the world, we are locked in a battle of moral claims, in points of view that accommodate only a single story.

And that is dangerous.

A single story is dangerous because it allows us to use language that dehumanizes the other, seeing them as not fully human. A single story does not give us the room to question the moral ground that regulates social relationships according to cultural norms. We forget that every group is created by human beings, that every human being is created in the image of God, and that we are not defined by one single story. We don’t celebrate the world for what it is – a mishmash of people, who live, learn, love, and breathe the same air we breathe, drink the same water we drink, eat the produce of the same earth we eat.

It is dangerous when people in positions of authority revert to a single story to define other people. It is dangerous to generalize and assign blame to whole groups, and not see people as individuals who are part of a group. It is dangerous to incite morally righteous violence. Today, in the world we live in, we must truly listen, and decide if we are listening to a single story, or a story that represents the full gamut of reality. Do we have a balanced point of view, or are we just listening to one version of reality? In our version, do we see others as just one monolithic group, defined in ways that can lead to their extermination, or are we seeing them as people like us? We can get stuck in the single story of hatred, name calling, and anger. We can get stuck in the single story of us versus them. In the vast majority of cases, no human being is purely good, and no human being is purely evil. No human being has the monopoly on acting perfectly, correctly, at all times. We are all motivated by our culturally-determined morals. We all have multiple stories.

In the Talmud, (Massechet Sanhedrin 37a) we read that witnesses in Capital offense cases were lectured sternly before they would give their testimony. The speech of the Judges centered around the idea that every human being was important. One of the examples they would give was that when people create coins from a mold, they are all the same. But when God created us, even though modern science tells us that 99.9% of our DNA is the same, we are still individuals, with different tastes, likes and dislikes, opinions, abilities, and dispositions.

Even though we are all created from the same mold, none of us has a single story. May we, in this coming year, use our mental capacities to listen to multiple stories. May we reject the stories that limit our understanding of the variety and potential of people, that incite violence, that generalize and erase the humanity of others.

May we take an active role in pointing out when and where the story restrains our capacity to love and understand our fellow human beings. And may we rejoice in the multiplicity of stories that makes our world more interesting, richer, and peaceful.

CEH Booth at the Arlington County Fair – Recap

Familiar faces and many Arlington neighbors stopped into the Etz Hayim booth at the Arlington County Fair! A number of passersby specifically asked about Membership, Preschool and High Holiday tickets, so we will follow up with those folks in the next few days.

Our booth is an important part of participating in Arlington community events, raising our profile, and reaching out to prospective members. Prospective members are often hesitant to walk into our synagogue doors without previously having met a friendly face. When we meet at the Fair and tell them about our dynamic programming and welcoming atmosphere, they are much more likely to walk through our doors and check us out.

Many thanks to the following volunteers for making this all possible! Carol & Alan Schwaber; Deborah Meyers; Paula Levin-Alcorn; Dan & Elisa Rosman; Bard, Caleb & Mira Malovany; Sue Hamm; Steve, Courtney, Daniel & Edward Schwartz; Jill Clark-Foulkes.

Upcoming event: Bring yourself, your friends and neighbors to the Congregational Picnic and Membership Open House on Sunday, September 23 at 12:00pm!  Learn about how you can become more involved at Etz Hayim committees, chat with friends, bring prospective members by the Welcome Booth for some CEH goodies…And enjoy a free picnic!

What’s Jewish About Swimming? Recap

The Jewish people love to ask questions! If you were at Upton Hills pool on Sunday, August 5, you would have learned “What’s Jewish About Swimming?” There were approximately 25 people at the event.

To start the conversation, we turned to a classic Jewish text. The Talmud, in Tractate Kiddushin 29a, enumerates a list of obligations parents have to their children. These include teaching them Torah, helping them find a suitable spouse, and preparing them for future employment. At the end of the list of obligations, Kiddushin 29a states: “And there are some who say that [parents] must also teach [their children] how to swim.”

We asked the children why it would be important to learn how to swim. One said it would be important because it would help you if you had to travel to new places. The Jews are a wandering people and have settled in many new places so this response was right on target. Another child said it was important to know how to swim so you wouldn’t drown.

The adults surmised that the metaphor of swimming means we are obligated to teach our children skills that will allow them to survive independently of our help when the need arises. Our children need to build confidence, physical fitness, and be willing to take risks. Our job as parents is to support and encourage them. In this context, teaching children how to swim is a metaphor for launching them on a successful path to Jewish adulthood.

Although our actual swim time was cut short by heavy rains, we enjoyed our time together learning and building community. We look forward to more “What’s Jewish About . . . ” events over the course of the school year!

Thank you to Alexis Joyce for planning the program and the craft and Naomi Harris and Stacey Viera for helping with publicity.

Upcoming event: What’s Jewish about Bubbies? on November 18, 2018