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Scheduling Sadness

07/14/2021 01:30:54 PM


Rabbi Brent Spodek


Francesco Hayez, Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, Galleria dell' Accademia, Venice, It

The Evening of Saturday, July 17, 2021 marks the beginning of Tisha b’Av, the hardest day on the Jewish calendar. 


Introducing our New Education Director

06/16/2021 04:16:33 PM


Rabbi Brent Spodek

I am thrilled to introduce our new Education Director, Rishe Groner!

Rishe (pronounced Reesh-ah) is a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary and will be with us for the coming year as part of their Resnick Internship program. She is currently in Jerusalem and will be moving to Beacon later this summer. [NB: we are looking for an affordable one bedroom apartment in Beacon; if you have leads, please let me know.]

Rishe comes with an incredible range of experience - born in the Chabad community of Melbourne, Australia, she has served as a teacher and prayer leader at the Romemu Seekers program, Luria School in Brooklyn, Pearlstone Retreat Center, Isabella Freedman Retreat Center, Moishe House, Nava Tehila in Jerusalem and more. You can learn of her Torah by checking out her website, which is focused on sharing embodied and mystical approaches to Jewish life, reading this article about her, or watching this brief video we made for our community.

Beyond that, Rishe comes with the knowledge and energy to build on what Julia Alexander has done with our Masa program and take things to the next level in the post-Covid year in front of us! 

I want to give special thanks to the members of our education committee - Ashley Baker, Josh Kaplan, Jesse Lunin-Pack and Bekah Starr - who did an incredible job of interviewing a very strong field of candidates and then helping Rishe to get familiar with our community from afar! Our clergy and staff - Faith Adams, Julia Alexander, Ilana Friedman, and Cantor Ellen Gersh also were all instrumental in managing this complicated process. 

If you have any questions, please let me know, and stay tuned for an opportunity later this summer to meet Rishe in person and learn what we have in store for the coming academic year!

With blessings,

Rabbi Brent

Torah of Israel and Palestine

05/20/2021 11:28:59 AM


Rabbi Brent Spodek

Dear Friends:

We just concluded the holiday of Shavuot, the commemoration of receiving the Torah in the wilderness. 

Why, our tradition asks, were we not given the Torah in Egypt, at the start of our epic journey?...Read more...

Meeting in Person

05/11/2021 04:23:10 PM


Rabbi Brent Spodek

Dear Friends:

The last time we gathered as a community was at the Purim Carnival last March; since then, we’ve gathered only online or in small groups. But, 15 months, one presidential election and 100 million vaccines later, we’re ready to start thinking about meeting in person again!

Of course, we will be following the guidance of the NYS Department of Health as well as BHA member Dr. Paul Ostrovsky regarding best practices. 

I want to share with you some of the plans we are working on with the caveat that there are many moving pieces, and we might have to change plans at some point. But for now, here’s the plan:

The Summer

Starting on Friday May 21, we are planning to start davvening on Friday nights at the pavilion at the University Settlement Camp (USC)! Woohoo! 

Our schedule will remain mostly the same, with adult learning at 5PM-6PM, mini-minyan at 5:30PM-6PM, and everyone davvening (adults and kids) at 6:00 PM. Everyone is welcome to bring a picnic dinner for their family if they wish, but at least for now, we will not have a “formal” BHA dinner. 

For services, please bring picnic blankets and/or lawn chairs that you are comfortable sitting on; we’ll ask that people set up at least 10 feet apart from each other. At that distance, we are not mandating that everyone wear masks, though of course, those who wish to do so are welcome to. 

You can see a map of where we’ll be meeting here. We recommend you enter the park at the northern entrance, bear right and proceed up the hill.  Parking spaces, including handicapped spaces, are located at the camp office near where we are meeting at the pavilion.  When that parking is full, please proceed down to the pool parking lot near the southern most entrance.

We hope to have internet access there so that we can broadcast our learning and davvening via our facebook page. We do not intend to keep making use of zoom. BHA members are encouraged to join the WhatsApp group for communication and connection over distance - Visit the BHA Members Only page for the link.

In the event of light rain, we can easily move into the open walled pavilion and maintain adequate distance; if the forecast calls for heavy rain, we’ll move entirely on-line.

FridayFri, 6 AugAugust, 2021

Mini Minyan at University Settlement Camp

Friday, Aug 6th 5:30p to 6:00pJoin our B-Mitzvah students and Education Director Julia Gross Alexander outside at the University Settlement Camp for a service for children ages 0-12. We will welcome Shabbat with song and dance, and we will end by lighting candles together.


FridayFri, 6 AugAugust, 2021

Kabbalat Shabbat at University Settlement Camp

Friday, Aug 6th 6:00p to 7:00pJoin us outside at the University Settlement Camp to welcome Shabbat with song and dance.


FridayFri, 13 AugAugust, 2021

Heart of Torah at University Settlement Camp

Friday, Aug 13th 5:00p to 6:00pJoin Rabbi Brent outside at the University Settlement Camp for a soulful exploration of the weekly Torah portion. This year we'll be traveling through the text with the writings of contemporary thinker, Rabbi Shai Held and his two volume collection, The Heart of Torah.


FridayFri, 13 AugAugust, 2021

Mini Minyan at University Settlement Camp

Friday, Aug 13th 5:30p to 6:00pJoin our B-Mitzvah students and Education Director Julia Gross Alexander outside at the University Settlement Camp for a service for children ages 0-12. We will welcome Shabbat with song and dance, and we will end by lighting candles together.


FridayFri, 13 AugAugust, 2021

Kabbalat Shabbat at University Settlement Camp

Friday, Aug 13th 6:00p to 7:00pJoin us outside at the University Settlement Camp to welcome Shabbat with song and dance.


FridayFri, 20 AugAugust, 2021

Mini Minyan at University Settlement Camp

Friday, Aug 20th 5:30p to 6:00pJoin our B-Mitzvah students and Education Director Julia Gross Alexander outside at the University Settlement Camp for a service for children ages 0-12. We will welcome Shabbat with song and dance, and we will end by lighting candles together.


The Days of Awe

The Days of Awe present some particular challenges this year. Two main things to be aware of: a) between adults and children, we generally have approximately 250 people in the building during the “peak” moments of the Days of Awe and b) our building has no ventilation system at all, and few windows that open more than a few inches. The ventilation is poor enough that most years, at least one person passes out from the heat in the building over the holidays. 

The good news is that we live in a beautiful part of the world with ample outdoor space. I am currently in conversation with some local camps to see if we can have our services there, and I am confident that we will find a way to celebrate the Days of Awe in a setting that is safe, comfortable, and gives us some flexibility in the event of inclement weather. 

The New Year

For Shabbat services we generally have no more than 50 people in the building at a time. It is my hope that for regular Shabbat services (after the Days of Awe) we will again be able to meet in our building, even if we have to make some adjustments to the building and/or our programs. 

Traditionally minded Jews preface nearly any statement about the future - even lunch in half an hour - with B’ezrat Hashem, or God willing. B’ezrat Hashem, I’m going to have a chicken salad sandwich soon, or B’ezrat Hashem, my child will be married in the fall. 

It’s a way of acknowledging that the future is always uncertain - sometimes we are aware of that, and sometimes we forget, but really, we never can be certain about what is happening next. 

So, B’ezrat Hashem, we’ll meet in person again soon - first outdoors and ultimately back in our communal home.  

What are Synagogues for?

05/05/2021 03:01:51 PM


Rabbi Brent Spodek

As we glimpse the light at the end of the Covid tunnel and plan to “build back better,” I’ve been wondering what synagogues like ours are for. Why should we - or any synagogue - exist at all? 

It's an uncomfortable question, but one we need to ask - What do synagogues like ours hope to accomplish in the world? Or put differently, in what way would the world be diminished if synagogues ceased to exist?

I’d like to explore the possibility that the purpose of a synagogue is to mobilize the Jewish tradition to facilitate personal, communal, and societal growth.

I do not practice Judaism because I am certain that is what God wants of me, and I do not practice Judaism as an homage to an imagined past. I practice Judaism because it enables me to live in alignment with the unique image of the Holy One that I - and all of us - carry in our souls. 


A few years ago, my wife was diagnosed with leukemia. She is alive today because her body, weakened by cancer, received a bone marrow transplant from a donor. Thanks to that transplant, her body produces healthy blood on its own; without that transplant, she might not be alive today. And yet, my wife’s very DNA is different than it was before - the transplant saved her, and it also changed her. 

It is not only a person who is changed when they are saved; a people can be changed as well. 

The Nazis murdered six million Jews in the Holocaust, a tragedy beyond measure. They also nearly - but thankfully didn’t - murder Judaism. By some measures, 90% of the rabbis and scholars alive in the world before the war were killed during the Holocaust. Like my wife, who survives because of a transplant from a donor, our post-Holocaust Judaism lives because of transplants from other traditions helped us bridge the loss of so many of our masters. 

Judaism was a rich and vibrant culture before the war, with a wild diversity of practices, connections and understandings of the world. The assimilating Jews of Germany, the secular bundists of Warsaw and the Hasidic mystics of Ukraine all had radically different understandings of what God was and how society should be organized. Judaism was a more robust and chaotic place and Jews had many options for how to do and be Jewish. 

The narrow sliver of Judaism that took root in America while the Holocaust raged was but one strand of that vibrant tapestry. It was shaped by and in response to American Protestantism; it was formed to ease our ancestors’ transition from Jewish immigrants to American Jews. It did that job incredibly well, and yet, it didn’t carry - and couldn’t possibly have carried - any more than a small fraction of the diversity of pre-war European Judaism.  

Judaism survived because of the strength of that narrow sliver, and because of the transplants we received. As with my wife, those transplants saved Judaism and also changed it. Judaism is stronger today because of the diversity of our inheritances.

My own spiritual life is shaped by the gifts of those transplants as fully as it is shaped by the rabbis of the Talmud. When I take my tallis and tefillin into the woods for prayer, I’m responding to the power of Jewish tradition and the inheritance of American transcendentalists, such as Henry Thoreau and Mary Oliver, who find the holy in the natural world. When I sit on my meditation cushion and focus on my breath while I chant the Shema, I’m responding to the power of the liturgy and the teachings of American Buddhists, such as Sylvia Boorstein and Norman Fischer, who cultivate contemplative practices based on Buddhism. 

These might seem like new practices, but they aren’t. They only seem that way when viewed from that thin sliver of post-war American Judaism. We have strong transcendentalist and contemplative traditions in our own Jewish lineage as well - I easily imagine that Reb Nachman of Bratslav would have been quite at home at Walden and the Rambam would have comfortably sat a silent meditation retreat at the Insight Meditation Society. It seems foreign to many of us because the flesh and blood teachers who might have passed on those traditions were murdered in Europe, but thanks in part to these transplants, we have other ways of accessing their power.


The Judaism we practice is the product of the long 20th century, easily one of the most tumultuous and cataclysmic periods of Jewish history. The end of European Judaism, the birth of the state of Israel and the resurgence of Judaism in America mark changes no less transformative than the destruction of the Second Temple and the birth of rabbinic Judaism. 

Rabbinic Judaism, which is to say, Judaism as we know it, with its emphasis on learning, verbal prayer and on Shabbat - was radically different from the Temple’s cult of animal sacrifice. So too, post-Holocaust Judaism is and will continue to be radically different from what preceded it. We have gone through periods of transformation and reinvention before, and we are living through one now. 

The future of American Judaism cannot look like the past. As scholars like Jonathan Sarna have pointed out, most of us are far removed from the immigrant experience and our relations with the gentile world are intimate in ways that prior generations could not imagine. Beyond that, as scholars like Robert Wunthnow and Arnie Eisen have pointed out, the entire framework for how Americans of all backgrounds think about religion has shifted radically in recent decades.

Unlike the past, with its pictures and memories, the future is unknown and unknowable. Yet a synagogue that hopes to survive must hold onto the past, and hold onto the future even more tightly. To paraphrase Marshall Goldsmith, what got us here will not get us there. We cannot treat Judaism like a precious heirloom we are afraid of breaking, but rather as living waters in which we swim, or perhaps as a laboratory in which we experiment with new and powerful ways of connecting with each other and with the Divine. 


So, why do synagogues need to exist? Because we need the traditions and wisdom of Judaism - augmented by other sources of wisdom - to help us be better people. We need Judaism to help us grow into better friends and citizens, parents and partners, and we need synagogues so Judaism has a home not only in our hearts, but in our community. We need synagogues so that people who are trying to mobilize the Jewish tradition to facilitate personal, communal, and societal growth have a place to connect with each other, and to the Source of all Life. The Judaism I learn and teach makes me a better person than I might be otherwise. I trust it can do the same for all of us. 

Emor: What a Jew does

04/27/2021 04:08:01 PM


Rabbi Brent Spodek

More than almost any other parshah in the Torah, Parshat Emor is packed densely with commandments.

Coming fast and furious, there are commandments which define the requirements for the ancient priests, commandments which define the purity of the animal sacrifices in the Temple and commandments which establish the holiday calendar. But tucked among the 63 commandments of this weeks parsha, there is one mitzvah which...Read more...

Holiness in Community

04/21/2021 05:16:17 PM


Rabbi Brent Spodek

In Parshat Kedoshim, the Holy One instructs Moses to say to the entire Israelite community: “You shall be holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” 

The instruction is addressed in the plural, to the entire community, because holiness is a...Read more...


04/14/2021 02:48:03 PM


Rabbi Brent Spodek

From our Education Director, Julia Gross Alexander:

Dear BHA Community,

Not quite three years ago, I was honored to be entrusted as the Education Director  at BHA. I was excited to build on the foundation Ashley Baker...Read more...

Nazis are personal

04/07/2021 03:19:52 PM


Rabbi Brent Spodeck

Charlottesville "Unite the Right" Rally; photo: Anthony Crider

The Nazis are personal for me. Perhaps they are for you as well.

I’m a rabbi with a mezuzah on my door and a rainbow flag on my front...Read more...

Discussion with Sabeeha Rehman & Walter Ruby on Shavuot

03/31/2021 01:39:44 PM


Rabbi Brent Spodek

On Pesach, we celebrate our liberation from slavery; 49 days later, on Shavuot, we celebrate receiving the Torah’s wisdom at Mt Sinai. 

This year, to celebrate Shavuot, we’ll be welcoming Sabeeha Rehman together with Walter Ruby to discuss...Read more...

Thu, August 5 2021 27 Av 5781