All posts by Deanne Loonin

Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival Has Started

It may still be snowing outside, but one sign of spring, the Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival, has begun.  The festival screens films in locations throughout the Valley through April 14.

The festival organizers explain that they are “… proud to present 24 outstanding films from 14 countries, including the United States, Israel, France, Germany, United Kingdom, South Africa and Uruguay. Our films provide a unique window into Jewish themes and values — exploring Jewish identity and presenting the richness of Jewish life, history and culture across the globe.”

Check out this “at a glance” calendar to learn about films and locations.

Shabbat Services During Rabbi Riqi’s Sabbatical

Our rabbi Riqi Kosovske began her sabbatical a few weeks ago.

A rabbi is often granted a sabbatical leave after six or seven years of service to the congregation.  The leave provides the rabbi an opportunity to seek spiritual and physical reinvigoration.  It is a time for a rabbi to pursue spiritual nourishment and a change in perspective, to deepen relationships with self, family, Jewish study, and God.  It is also a time of spiritual growth for the congregation and a time for the congregation to re-energize lay leadership and develop our leaders.

As part of this process, we have invited community members and guest rabbis to lead shabbat services during the sabbatical.  The schedule so far is posted below:

Shabbat Services Schedule during Rabbi Riqi’s Sabbatical 2016


Date Start Time Service Leader(s) Special Notes
Friday 1/8/16*

*2nd Friday of the month

7:30 p.m. Kenny Hahn Tot Shabbat at 5:15
Friday 1/15/16 6:00 p.m. Levi-Donnelly Family Jewish Camp-style Musical service
Friday 1/29/16 6:00 p.m. Rabbi Efraim Eisen Community Supper
Friday 2/5/16 7:30 p.m. TBA
Friday 2/19/16 6:00 p.m. Ruth Barham Meditation service
Friday 3/4/16 7:30 p.m. Lisa Prolman Tot Shabbat at 5:15
Friday 3/18/16 6:00 p.m. Rabbi Saul Perlmutter
Saturday 3/26/16 9:30 a.m. TBA with Jody Rosenbloom Shabbat B’Yachad-Shabbos Sugar Shack Lunch
Friday 4/1/16 7:30 p.m. Sherri Meade Tot Shabbat at 5:15
Friday 4/15/16 6:00 p.m. Kenny Hahn
Saturday 4/16/16 10:00 a.m. Rabbi Efraim Eisen Elijah Lopez-Reiss Bar Mitzvah
Friday 5/6/16 7:30 p.m. Randy Furash-Stewart Tot Shabbat at 5:15;

Erev Pride Shabbat

Friday 5/20/16 6:00 p.m. Rabbi Lori Shaller
Friday 6/3/16 7:30 p.m. Rabbi Efraim Eisen Tot Shabbat at 5:15
Saturday 6/11/16 Shavuot evening celebration TBA Shavuot, TBA
Friday 6/17/16 6:00 p.m. TBA
Friday 7/1/16 7:30 p.m. TBA


 Guest Rabbi Bios

Rabbi Efraim Eisen

Rabbi Efraim Eisen was a student of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach from his formative years until Reb Shlomo left this world in 1994. He was the Rabbi for the University of Oregon, Vassar College, Mt. Holyoke, the Pioneer Valley Jewish Renewal Community and Temple Israel in Greenfield.

Together with his wife Rosalie they founded Basherte, an internationally renowned program designed to assist people to find their soul mates. While facilitating this program he wrote and produced a Cd entitled “Every Being Has a Light”. He is delighted that over 100 couples have connected through this work.

Rabbi Eisen was ordained through Aleph Alliance for Jewish Renewal under the direction of R Zalman Schachter Shalomi. He was licensed as a marriage and family therapist in 1981 and continues to practice today, integrating spiritual principles with a problem solving approach. He specializes in helping people find their soul mates and welcomes the Higher Power into his work.


Rabbi Saul Perlmutter

Rabbi Perlmutter grew up in Burlington, VT and is a graduate of Brandeis University and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. He also has a Master’s degree in Social Work from Yeshiva University, an orthodox institution, and has been a member of a non-denominational Havurah in the Northampton/Amherst area for over 40 years.

In August 2014, Rabbi Perlmutter retired from serving as Executive Director of UMass Hillel where they held reform, conservative and orthodox services on Friday nights. He continues to serve part-time as the rabbi of Congregation Sons of Zion in Holyoke, a liberal conservative congregation. Along the way Rabbi Perlmutter has spent over two years in Israel, one as an undergraduate and one on sabbatical with his wife Shoshana Zonderman and their children Ariela and Noam.

Rabbi Perlmutter says:   “I have enjoyed several services at Beit Ahavah and am looking forward to sharing Friday night March 18 with you!”

Rabbi Lori Shaller

Rabbi and Mashpiah (Spiritual Director) Lori D. Shaller lives on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard with her husband, Matt Pelikan, a Restoration Ecologist for The Nature Conservancy and violinist and her cat Pitzi.  She was ordained as a Rabbi by ALEPH:  Alliance for Jewish Renewal in 2015 and as a Mashpiah in 2014.  Lori has been the guest spiritual leader with various Jewish congregations and Unitarian Universalist churches; teaches; leads interfaith, clergy spiritual direction groups; and sees private clients in spiritual direction.  She is the co-founder of Educating for Spirituality, teaching religious school teachers how to en-spirit their religious school curricula.  The Jewish Women’s Archive has published Lori’s curriculum on Jewish women in the Labor Movement.

Rabbi Shaller is a fellow with Rabbis without Borders and was a participant in the Jewish and Muslim Emerging Leaders Women’s Retreat sponsored by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College’s Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives.  Lori has been an educator and curriculum writer of world history, Shakespeare and curriculum design for twenty-five years.  Lori earned an A.B. cum laude from Harvard University and Masters of Teaching and Masters in American Jewish History from Boston University.


Join Beit Ahavah for High Holy Days

~ HIGH HOLYDAYS 5776 (2015) ~

Our doors are open for high holy days and we welcome everyone to join us at 130 Pine Street, Florence.
Saturday, September 5, 8:30-10:00 p.m.
“Moving Torah” – A Joint Community Evening to prepare spiritually for the holidays led by the three Rabbis of Congregation B’nai, Beit Ahavah and the Jewish Community of Amherst, with guest creator and Jewish educator Andrea Hodos. Location: Congregation B’nai Israel (CBI), 253 Prospect Street, Northampton.
Sunday, September 13
Erev Rosh Hashanah Service, , 7:00 p.m.
Led by Rabbi Riqi Kosovske with the High Holydays Singers.  Introducing the new Reform High Holyday Machzor, Mishkan Hanefesh — community feedback will be welcomed.

Monday, September 14
Rosh Hashanah Morning Service, , 9:30 a.m.
Led by Rabbi Riqi Kosovske with the High Holydays Singers.

Rosh Hashanah Children’s, Teen & Afternoon Events:
Family Service led by Anna Sobel, 9:15 a.m.
Teen Discussion with Sharon Saline and Teen Leader Zora Berman,11:15 a.m.
Community New Year’s Lunch – all welcome! Come dip apples in Beit Ahavah honey and a delicious meal, 12:30 p.m.
Tashlich Service held at Mill River, 60 Federal Street, Florence, 3:00 p.m.


Tuesday, September 22
Kol Nidre Evening Service, 6:30 p.m.
Led by Rabbi Riqi Kosovske with the High Holydays Singers.  The Kol Nidre Prayer is chanted at the beginning by three Beit Ahavah singers, and played on viola and cello by Margaret Miller’s father and friends who will join us from Albany.

Wednesday, September 23
Yom Kippur Morning Service, 9:30 a.m.
Led by Rabbi Riqi Kosovske with the High Holydays Singers.

Yom Kippur Children’s, Teen & Afternoon Events:
Family Service led by Anna Sobel, 9:15 a.m.
Youth Service (new!) (grades 4-7), led by Marlene Rachelle, 11:15 a.m.
Teen Discussion with Sharon Saline and Teen Leader Zora Berman, 11:15 a.m.
Afternoon Walk with Stephanie Pick and Robert Harris, 2:00 p.m.
Interfaith Discussion with Ty Power, Randy Furash-Stewart and others, 3:00 p.m.
Storytelling by Robert Harris, 3:45 p.m.
Creative Afternoon Service with Spiritual Journeys, introducing the new Reform Machzor, Mishkan Hanefesh, 4:30 p.m.
Yizkor Memorial Service, 5:45 p.m.
Ne’ilah (Closing the Gates) Service, Teikyah G’dolah (Shofars) & Havdalah, 6:15 p.m.
Community Break Fast Meal – all welcome! 7:15 p.m.

September 27 – October 5
Open Sukkahs & Celebrations!

Sunday, September 27
1st Night – Erev Sukkot Dinner in the Beit Ahavah Sukkah  5:00 p.m.

Sunday, October 4
“Harvesting Hope” Hakhel Interfaith Festival (held at CBI) 1-5:00 p.m.

(schedule updated on August 23, 2015 fz)

Shehechiyanu Moment! Rabbi’s Message: SCOTUS Decision Day-Shabbat of Hope & Solidarity

Dear Beit Ahavah Community,

The historic decision was announced by the Supreme Court this morning ruling in favor of marriage equality.

This Shabbat is also declared as a Shabbat of Solidarity for Charleston, as the funerals have begun this week, and we remember the nine souls who were killed in a rampage of hate.  We stand with Charleston and all who have died in attacks throughout the world.

How do you feel right now?

An hour ago I heard the news, and I cried joyfully in my office.  I wrote to Jennifer Levi, our member who has worked tirelessly on gay marriage laws as a lawyer for GLAD, to say Mazal Tov.  Then my friend and colleague Rabbi Justin David called inviting me to share words or a song tomorrow to celebrate at CBI’s Shabbat morning service to which all are welcome, and to share his elation with me.  I then found myself turning on Ferron’s album Testimony on my computer — songs which had carried me in the late 80s and 90s with a vision of GLBT equality.  I scrambled through Facebook for updates and saw expressions of elation and joy.

But then I decided to take a moment to think, and went downstairs and took the Torah out of the ark, and sat with her quietly on the Memorial Room couch, and held her with all my might, as though hugging a small child, and wept for the amazing victory today and all it represents – even as I haven’t had time to process this change.  I thought of the amazing community we have at Beit Ahavah which has always opened its doors and heart to all with love, respect and celebration for who we are.

Friends, this is a Shehechiyanu moment.  The Shehechiyanu prayer is said at special and first times for things:

Blessed are you Adonai, our G-d, Creator of the Universe, who has kept us alive, and sustained us, and caused us to arrive at this time 

Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, she’hechiyanu v’kiyamanu v’higiyanu lazman ha-zeh.

Today we invoke all those who have worked throughout their lives to bring about equality, freedom, dignity, justice and love.  In the Torah portion this week, Chukat, Miriam and Aaron each die in the wilderness after a full life dedicated to leadership, prophecy, vision, sacrifice, celebration and miracle in their 40-year journey leading to a new generation.  Like them, today we can remember Harvey Milk, the poets and writers, activists and people just living their lives, who have persevered in the vision of justice and love.

There is also a public gathering for Decision Day celebration at One Bar & Grill, 1 Pearl Street, Northampton, called for 7 p.m.  More details here and on our Facebook page.

May we feel profound connection as our hearts swell with pride, relief and joy for this historic decision in America.  May we ever be vigilant in our dedication to eradicating injustice, racism, oppression and suffering everywhere.  May our hearts break open to offer comfort to our brothers and sisters who were killed in Charleston during Bible study, and may we find our hope renewed to carry on with love and hope to build our world and country into a safe harbor of love for all.

Shabbat shalom of blessing and Mazel Tov!

Rabbi Riqi Kosovske

Rabbi Anne Brener and Navigating the Wilderness of Loss

Rabbi Anne Brener brought her insights, compassion and wisdom to Beit Ahavah last week in a workshop  about “Navigating the Wilderness of Loss: The Geography of Jewish Mourning. ”

It has been a difficult year for our community.  In that sense, Rabbi Brener’s workshop was well-timed to help us learn and think about individual and community healing.

As Rabbi Jack Riemer wrote in the foreward to Rabbi Brener’s book,  Mourning and Mitzvah: “It is hard to work through one’s grief when there are so many cover-ups and so many different kinds of denial at work within the culture. And that is why this book is of so much importance. Anne Brener has crafted a walkway through the valley of the shadow of death. The walkway has thorns and bramble bushes on it but it leads to the other side, beyond grief, for those who are willing to stay the course. ..”

Rabbi Brener spoke not only to those currently mourning a death or other loss, but also to those who help the mourners through this journey.  She talked about how when the temple stood in the ancient city of Jerusalem, mourners walked through the gates and into the courtyard along a specifically designated mourner’s path. As they walked, they came face to face with all the other members of the community, who greeted them with the ancestor of the blessing, “May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” In this way, the community embraced those suffering bereavement, yet allowed for unique experiences of grief.  Rabbi Brener  helped our community think about how to face those in mourning, to face our own losses, and to learn how a community can come together and help each other heal.


Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival is Here

We always look forward to spring AND the annual Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival.   The festival includes films shown around the valley from Sunday April 12 through Sunday April 26.

Among other films, you can see Self Made at Umass Amherst on Wed. April 15.  According to the description:  “Idiosyncratic and dripping with black humor, Self Made tells the story of two women – one Israeli, the other Palestinian – who are trapped within their respective worlds. After a mix-up at a checkpoint, they find themselves living the life of the other on the opposite side of the border. ”  Weekend films include Waltz with Bashir, an amazing Israeli animated war documentary depicting director Ari Folman in search of his lost memories of his experience as a soldier in the 1982 Lebanon War.  This film is showing at Shelburne Falls on Saturday April 18.

You can find the full calendar here and we hope to see you at the movies!

Hampshire Mosque Extends Support for Peace & Justice Rally

There were many moving moments during the peace & justice rally last weekend, including this message from Patrick Bensen, President of the Hampshire Mosque:

In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

On behalf of Hampshire Mosque, I would like to extend our full support for this rally against racial and religious prejudice.

The Qur’an states, “[God has] made you different tribes and nations so that you might know one another.” The diversity of this Earth is a blessing. An ideology that seeks to impose uniformity is dangerous, and must be opposed.

There are many stories of conflict in this world, and if one did not know better, one might conclude that the different tribes, nations, and religions are always in conflict.

Our history and our sacred knowledge tell us otherwise. Our mutual legacy, among all religions, is one of tolerance, justice, and peaceful interaction. The actions of the spiteful and the ignorant will not tarnish this legacy.

Regarding the relationship between our religion and yours specifically, a recent incident in Norway exemplifies our stance. Following a violent murder in Denmark, a group of Muslims in Oslo gathered to form a human chain around the country’s only remaining synagogue, symbolizing their readiness to protect the Jewish people from any threat.

This is the normative position of Islam, and of Muslims toward their Jewish neighbors, now and throughout history. Anyone who says otherwise lacks knowledge of our religion.

We are ready to protect you whenever you need us. Please accept our support.


Our community is so grateful for these words of support and to everyone who came out in the cold last Saturday night to speak out against hate and bigotry and for love and peace.

Speak Out Against Hate and Bigotry and For Love and Peace

Beit Ahavah is co-sponsoring a community event this Saturday evening, February 28, to bring people together in the wake of recent events of anti-semitism and racism in Northampton.  The “Speak Out Against Hate and Bigotry and For Love and Peace Event” is hosted by the Beit Ahavah Reform Synagogue, Congregation B’nai Israel, the Pioneer Valley Progressive Muslims and other local organizations.  As reported in the Gazette, the event comes in response to the burning of an Israeli flag in front of the Congregation B’nai Israel last August and vandalism incidents in which two juveniles scrawled anti-Semitic and racist remarks along Sherman Avenue in January.

Beit Ahavah member Jennifer Levi said about the event:  “I don’t believe there’s been enough of a public statement condemning these acts of racism and hatred…We hope this event will unify our statement that we are not the type of community that condones this type of bigotry.”

The event will begin with a traditional Jewish Havdalah celebration followed by a series of songs and talks addressing the importance of educating against hatred. Local clergy members will lead the event, but everyone who attends will be encouraged to speak up.

We hope to see you there.