Category Archives: Thoughts & Reflections

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.


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.

Justice, Justice Shall you Pursue: How We Can Help in Haiti

We had a very special Shabbat service on January 30, sponsored by Beit Ahavah’s Tzedek Tzedek (social justice) committee.  Beit Ahavah’s long-time members Lucy Garbus and David Slack presented their passionate work through sharing and photographs, as part of Haiti Marycare, an organization that addresses health issues in Haiti, focusing on the town of Jacquesyl and its surroundings.    Rabbi Riqi also shared about the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) projects in Haiti and the Jewish imperative of “justice, justice shall you pursue.” 

It was an amazing evening, sparked by Lucy’s moving words about why she is drawn to Haiti and why she keeps going back.  Below is an except from Lucy’s presentation, an essay she calls “Fire”:

When I was in Haiti last week for my yearly medical trip, I stumbled upon a monument erected to commemorate 200 years of the one and only successful slave uprising in the world. The flame that was supposed to remain eternally lit, remains eternally cold. While it is common that things don’t work in Haiti, there is an irony in this particular malfunction, because all the rest of Haiti is on fire. There are women in the street, cooking huge vats of soup over an open fire and there is often a large messy pile of garbage burning in the street. The shops at night are visible only from their candles, creating a small and lonely light as you pass through a town. In the markets young boys hawk handmade charcoal burners on their heads, like medieval warriors. But the real fire lies within the people. It is their eyes, looking at you, unblinking, to  see and be seen. It is on their tongues in their beautiful and earnest language, loud and fast and in their songs that every Haitian  knows and will break into unbidden, creating an unexpected  moment of pure joy as their voices rise together. It is in their bodies, dark, taut and beautiful and strong enough to walk a mile with a door on one’s head, without having had a meal that day.

When I  first came to Haiti  I did so with a terribly naive idea that i could do some good for a country that was terribly poor. I knew nothing of her history or the fire that burns inside her people. I have kept coming because  the group that I joined has actually brought sustainable health care to a village that had none at all, where people simply died if they got too sick or a birth went wrong. But really I keep coming because I want to catch that fire. I want to be that woman who dances with a passion that  makes you  believe that she alone could defeat Napoleon’s army. I want to have a faith that burns so strong that I can keep smiling and loving everyone I meet no matter what they have done to me.

Even if I lived there: threw my passport into the sea and studied my Kreyol and learned the songs and went to vodou ceremonies and danced in church, my story would not be theirs. My skin is as white as my ancestors from the shtetls, who perished at the hands of people as evil as those who have killed and mistreated the Haitian people.  That is my story. It is a story which has a different ending, one that gives me choice. That choice will be forever on my face and in my stomach, which never has to go hungry and therefore I will never know that fire.

But I will keep coming back as long as I am able. I will bring my medicines and my stethoscope and vitamins which are my ticket in, but once there I will dance and laugh and love with the an abandon that I only feel when I am in Haiti and I will keep trying to catch a spark.


We were all moved by Lucy’s words, but it is not just inspiring words that Lucy and David bring when they travel to Haiti.  They also bring medical expertise and supplies and a real passion for tikkun olam.

We are collecting the following items below for Lucy and David  to bring to Haiti.  We will collect items on Friday night and throughout the rest of February.

PLEASE BRING AS MANY OF THE FOLLOWING HEALTH ITEMS (new, unopened) to our collection box at Beit Ahavah:

Automatic Blood Pressure Cuffs
Surgical Tape

Anti-fungals: Clotrimazole, Lotrimin, Nystatin, Terbinafine, Tolnaftate

Antacids:  Pepcid, Ranitidine, Tagamet, Tums, Zantac

Topical Creams: Bacitracin, Hydrocortisone, Neosporin

Aspirin (81 mg. tablets)
Benadryl (both liquid and tablets)
NIX (for lice)
Motrin (for children and for adults)
Tylenol (for children and for adults)

Wrestling with Judaism—by Lena Sclove

Many of us question how to integrate ancient religious practices into our modern, pluralistic lives.  It can be both a struggle and an inspiring journey.

Reform Judaism encourages us to take this journey and think about what it means to “introduce innovation” to Judaism while “preserving tradition.”

There is much to discuss on this topic as Lena Sclove writes about in this provocative and inspiring blog post:  Wrestling with Judaism.

If you like what you read, follow Lena’s blog to read her new writing regularly.