Melrose B'nai Israel Emanu-El

The Little Shul with the Big Heart

8339 Old York Road, Elkins Park, PA 19027
Phone: 215-635-1505 | Email: office@mbiee.org

Welcome to Melrose B'nai Israel Emanu-El

Welcome!

Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El is the small, haimish, traditional, egalitarian congregation that extends warmth and welcomes a range of diverse ideas so that people of all ages will know they are valued, participate and feel spiritually uplifted. We are a United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism (USCJ) congregation

We invite you to join our warm and welcoming community: The Little Shul with a BIG Heart!




Higher and Higher

 
 

DAILY MINYAN
every weekday morning at 8 am, and Sundays at 9am
Click here:Daily Minyan
 
SHABBAT MORNING SERVICES
9:15am
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SHABBAT EVENING SERVICES
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A Message from Rabbi Charles Sherman
August 25, 2020
Dear Friends,
 
I hope this letter finds you doing well. Cantor Freedman and I look forward to being with you, albeit virtually, for the High Holydays. I am pleased that we are able to invite you to be part of something very meaningful and special.
 
There are many ways to welcome the New Year -- there is the traditional liturgy, the symbolism of the shofar, the sweetness of the honey. This year, we have created four opportunities to enhance our recognition and participation in the High Holydays. At each service, there will be a very moving video, not unlike the Megillah – scroll, uplifting music, personal messages, and the hopes of our community.
 
We invite you to participate. Please send all materials to rabbisherman@yahoo.com or office@mbiee.org
 
The First Day of Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate creation and birth. We are uplifted to welcome to the world, our newborns, born since last Rosh Hashanah. If you are a parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, I invite you to share your wonderful news. Please send us the name of the baby, the birth date, and the parents’ and relatives’ names. If you have a photograph of the baby that you would like to share, that would be terrific. As in the past, in recognition, we have lovely gifts for our newborns, to celebrate the special day.
 
The Second Day of Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate S’machot – joyous life-cycle events, special birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, and B’nai/B’not Mitzva. We understand, for part of this past year, such celebrations were limited. This is now an opportunity for our MBIEE community to extend a warm Mazel Tov. Please send us details. In addition, if you would like to include photographs, please do.
 
Yom Kippur is a day of introspection and reflection. On Kol Nidre evening, we invite you to share your reflections and thoughts. If you feel comfortable, please share what you are grateful for, anonymously, if you prefer. This is an opportunity to express how we feel in today’s time. Please jot something down, and send it to us, so that we can learn from your insights and experience as we begin a New Year.
 
The last service on Yom Kippur is Ne’ila. It has been a long day, physically and emotionally. The sun begins to set. The gates metaphorically are closing. Before the final blast of the shofar, we invite you to share your hopes, dreams, and wishes for the New Year.
 
Thank you for being part of the MBIEE community and for allowing us to be, every day of the year, “the little shul with the big heart.”
 
In Friendship,
 
Rabbi Charles S. Sherman

 

A Message from
Rabbi Charles Sherman
July 31, 2020

     As recently as a few days ago, we were striving to remain optimistic, we wanted more than anything for our congregation to gather together in our sanctuary for worship, reflection, gratitude, in anticipation of the New Year.  We have missed the opportunity to be together in friendship, to garner support from one another during life’s challenging times, and the sharing of simchas – the Mazel Tovs of life.   As difficult as it is, this year, we cannot be together in our sanctuary.  After many conversations with the medical community, and careful deliberation, we recognize as important as our dream was, it is critical that we prioritize the health and safety of our community.  This is a significant bump in the road -- there are many who are suffering – but we do believe we will get through this. And we will be back in our synagogue when it is safe to do so.

   Our present challenge is to create an authentic religious experience, rooted in tradition, but made possible through current technology. We believe we have created something that recognizes our present circumstances but allows us to be informed, inspired and uplifted.

   We will be streaming all of our Holyday services live from our sanctuary.  The integrity of the religious experience is primary – our beautiful rituals, ancient prayers, unpretentious sacred space, the spontaneity, the Rabbi’s reflections, the Cantor’s voice, maybe even some unrehearsed banter.

   A tiny bit of comfort, hidden in the tragedies of this pandemic, is that with online services, we can “be” with our family members, at the same shul, for the Holydays. We can be in different time zones, thousands of miles away, but still be together. Sound engineer and production director Joe Hannigan, well-known for his wonderful work with The Philadelphia Orchestra, the Kimmel Center and The Frederick R. Mann Center, is coordinating our services, ensuring that everyone “tuning in” will have the best experience possible. Please, if you are unsure about the technology, or need help accessing our services, reach out ahead of time. We will provide you the help you need.

   It is hard to express this; it is painful and uncomfortable. But some may be saying, why belong to the synagogue, why make the substantial commitment, when we can access what we want online. We can even “channel surf’ to find a different service that somehow seems to meet what we are looking for.

   Our answer is simple. As Jews, we are more than that. Our affiliation makes a statement that is an affirmation of continuity. We need each other more than ever. In order to sustain our community, our congregation, our sacred space, we all need to accept our responsibility and honor our commitments to MBIEE.

   The Rosh Hashana Torah reading is about “the binding of Isaac.” It is a very complex and upsetting story, a story that scholars have discussed and debated for centuries. It is introduced with God seeking Abraham, who then answers, Hineini “Here I am.” But perhaps, not discussed as much, is a point a bit later in the story, when a bewildered Isaac seeks his father. And Abraham’s answer is the same, Hineini, “Here I am.” This poignant detail speaks of Abraham’s love for his son, the next generation.

   What is asked of all of us now, for our present and more important our future, is a question that perhaps is difficult to articulate. But the answer we must offer is clear. The answer is, like Abraham’s to God and to Isaac, his beloved, “Here I am.”

Our hope and prayer is that you will continue to maintain your affiliation with MBIEE, “the little shul with the big heart,” from generation to generation.


A Message from
Rabbi Charles Sherman
May 20, 2020

     In 586 BCE, the First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians.  I imagine the Jews were traumatized emotionally, terrified of the unknown. They questioned their viability of survival. The Temple was not just a central focus of worship, but it was a source of community, a place of faith and ritual, a place where the people gathered.  It was a sacred communal institution. I am sure they wondered, with fear in their hearts, what is tomorrow going to look like?
Today, spring 2020, we are asking that same question.  What is tomorrow going to look like, in particular, what is our synagogue going to look like? How will we gather together for sacred holy days? How do we come together, as a community, to bless our life events, to uplift each other, say amen to each other’s kaddish, participate in greeting the bride and groom, or wish each other Shabbat Shalom, Shana Tova?
     Back to 586 BCE – as we know, what happened then was the creation of the synagogue. And with the synagogue, Jews discovered they could survive because the synagogue transcends boundaries. There are no limits. The synagogue required creativity, ingenuity, sheer will. Throughout the world now, we have to rethink how we worship, how we remain a community. Like our ancestors, we have to be creative, and we must learn to embrace a change we did not want.
     We are doing that at Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. We are providing our daily minyan, classes, Friday evening services, Saturday morning and evening services. The tiny bit of silver lining in the tragedy of the pandemic is that we now are welcoming people to services and programs who had not been with us for a while, for whatever reason – relocation, illness, transportation issues, being unable to leave a loved one home alone. Our community is much larger.  It is different, of course, and all of us yearn for the sense of community that comes from being together in the same sacred space.  I find it interesting that when we end our services, people want to stay on their computers. They want to talk, to make eye contact. We all miss each other.
     There are few things I, or anyone else, can promise in this age of uncertainty. But I can promise that for the High Holydays we will have services that are uplifting, inspiring and thoughtful. There will be the traditional liturgy and impressive music and we ask that you be with us. My prayer is that we will be back in our synagogue. But if we are not – and if we are in our homes – we still will be together and worship together as a faith community in welcoming a new year with anticipation and joy.
     As Elie Wiesel reminds us “A Jew may be alone, but never solitary. For a Jew remains integrated within a timeless community.

Reprinted from The Jewish Exponent, April 3, 2020

Opinion | Why Is This Night Different?

By Rabbi Charles Sherman

This year, in particular, the question, as well as the answer, takes on greater relevance. In years past, we talked about the matzah, the bitter herbs, the vegetable “dippings,” “reclining” around the seder table.

But when we ask this question now, with a global pandemic, the questions and answers are about what we do now, how we do it, or even if we do it.

In years past, I would be leading a Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El community seder. There would be the traditional foods, conversations, text study, lots of singing. The second night of Passover I would be having family and friends at our home for a seder, a little more informal, lots of stories, even some silliness, while still fulfilling the regulations of the seder.

When this whole thing broke out, the first thing to go by the wayside was the community seder. It would be too thoughtless, and not safe, to bring people together. Certainly, I thought to myself, we would continue on with our family seder.

But then several days ago, we had to make a decision — that even the family seder would not take place. It would be putting us in danger. So this year it will be Leah and myself, a seder for two.

I am sure many of you share with us the sadness of this reality. We had hopes of being with grandchildren and family. There is a sense of isolation and loneliness. In Jewish tradition there is a recognition that not everyone has someone to be with — if you have a seder for one, do the questions still need to be asked?

I find myself at an intersection — what do we do in this unchartered territory? Are there limitations? What is forbidden, what is allowed? What I am guided by is the directive we all know: “Choose life.”

Here are my rabbinic suggestions, and what I am going to do this year. I hope you will follow my lead.

On Passover cleaning, just do the best you can. Your best is fine. Do not throw away chametz. We do not know how long this thing is going to last. If you want, you can simply cover the chametz up, place it in another cabinet; perishables can be kept on designated shelves in your refrigerator or freezer.

Some of us truly will be alone. Technology is an incredible thing. While some of us do not use technology on Shabbat or holidays, this year I certainly intend to do so. Many of us have cell phones that we can put on speaker. I would urge you to connect with family or friends through your seder.

MBIEE will offer a virtual seder, and Leah and I invite you to join us at our virtual dinner table. There are other virtual seders as well, and Passover services offered by various synagogues.

As you know, when we end the seder, what we say to each other is “Next year in Jerusalem.” These words end the seder on a hopeful note, looking with optimism to the future. Jerusalem becomes a state of mind. “Next year in Jerusalem” is about rebuilding our dreams, hopes and opportunities. It is about renewing our faith and belief and envisioning a time when all things that are broken can be repaired.

Next year in Jerusalem.

 

 

Opinion: Why Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El Works

Reprinted from The Jewish Exponent, October 11 Issue

By Rabbi Charles Sherman

Over the last few years, Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El in Elkins Park has experienced significant growth. I know there are lots of reasons — our move to the Old York Road corridor, an inviting space, the demographics of the community, and a growing number of people searching for a place to call “home.”

Digging deeper, I think something else is happening here. In my opinion, part of the reason for our growth is that we are providing an authentic response to many people who are uprooted spiritually. There is a certain comfort level in allowing the past — the liturgy, words, melodies, rituals and ceremonies — to inform the present and the future.

The sameness brings a level of comfort to many of us. There is a peace that comes with the continuity — knowing that the prayers we say, the words we recite, the songs we sing, are the same or very similar to what our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents uttered.

I grew up in Philadelphia. My neighborhood, “D and the Boulevard,” was home to a traditional conservative synagogue, B’rith Israel, where my family belonged. And even though it is no longer a synagogue, to this day when I drive down the Boulevard and I see the building, I pine for those days. I don’t think it’s just hollow nostalgia. I can still hear the voice of the cantor, the sound of the shofar; I can remember the faces of my friends who would stand on the front steps of the synagogue. People wishing each other “Gut Yontif.”

Many of you, I imagine, understand my feelings and have your own warm memories of the synagogue you grew up in. While Melrose can’t recapture your synagogue of yesterday, we remain committed to tradition and rituals that for centuries have provided meaning to the Jewish people. Melrose understands simply because something was “yesterday” doesn’t mean it is irrelevant. We are dedicated to maintaining as much as possible this celebrated and sacred past, while at the same time engaging the present.

While acknowledging our beautiful past and present, we also look to the future. I am so proud and honored to be the rabbi of Melrose, and especially proud when people tell me how welcoming our community is, friendly and warm. And that warmth has made new people want to return time and time again.

My friend the late Leonard Fein writes about the importance of a synagogue community: “At times of a faceless community, where people still feel connected by a culture of reciprocal responsibilities… The importance of being ready, at any moment of any day, to be the 10th person in a minyan, to be the person who makes the difference in transforming an aggregation of people into a purposeful cohort.”

Rabbi Charles Sherman is the spiritual leader of Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El in Elkins Park and the author of The Broken and the Whole: Discovering Joy After Heartbreak (Scribner/Simon and Schuster).


Cantor Stephen Freedman
Leads High Holiday Services

   Cantor Stephen Freedman led the MBIEE High Holiday services this year, beginning with Selichot and continuing through Yom Kippur.

A graduate of the University of New Hampshire with a BS in Music Education, he taught elementary classroom music in the Andover, MA Public Schools for seven years before entering the cantorate on a full-time basis in 1982.

He received his cantorial training under the tutelage of the late Cantor Gregor Shelkan and the late Cantor Zvee Aroni. Cantor Freedman served congregations in Worcester, MA, Miami, and Cranston, RI before coming to Temple Sinai (Dresher) in 2001; he served that synagogue until 2019.

An accomplished folksinger and composer, several of Cantor Freedman’s compositions have been published by the Cantors Assembly. In 2006, he was honored by Shalshelet – The Foundation for New Jewish Liturgical Music, for his composition Esa Einai. An active member of the Cantors Assembly, Cantor Freedman served as Chairman of the Delaware Valley Region for three years and has served nationally as a member of the Executive Council and of the Publications Committee.

He and his wife Randi are the proud parents of a blended family of eight children.

Cantor Freedman has released four recordings. Many of his compositions have been published by the Cantors Assembly of which he is a proud member. In 2018, Cantor Freedman was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Cantor Freedman was revered by his congregants at Temple Sinai; here is a sample of their reactions to his work:

  • “You infuse every service with ruach, warmth, and community.”
  • “You deserve a hearty yasher koach for your excellent singing and ruach that move the congregation into a more holy place.”
  • “Thank you for inspiring us to love reading Torah and singing prayers. Your enthusiasm and passion for Jewish music has truly influenced our connection to Judaism.”

Examples of Cantor Freedman’s array of Jewish musical talent can be found at Cantor Freedman Audio


Ari Sussman Receives Leonard Bernstein Fellowship

Ari Sussman, son of MBIEE vice president, Sharon Sussman, recently received the Leonard Bernstein Fellowship in composition. A piece that he composed was performed in Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony, in western Massachusetts.

(photograph from the Jewish Exponent, August 9, 2019)


Why I Left the
Women’s March L.A.
by Rabbi Nicole Guzik 
(Daughter-in-law of Rabbi Charles Sherman of Melrose B'nai Israel Emanu-El)

To Emiliana Guereca and Deena Katz, Co-founders Women’s March L.A.
Dear Emiliana and Deena,
   There’s a rabbinic dictum, Dan lkaf zchut, give every person the benefit of the doubt. And that is what I did this past week and today. I booked a hotel room from Friday to Sunday in order to observe Shabbat downtown and stand for equality and the ability for women and men to join together to give voice to those unable to speak. However, I was assured by you, the founders of this March, countlessly in a private meeting, that this March was different. That in Los Angeles (unlike the National March) Israel would not be attacked, labeling Israel as an apartheid state would be unwelcome on the stage and if a speaker went off script, the managers of the program would raise the music. In the very first hour of the Women’s March L.A. program at Pershing Square, all those promises were broken.
   Marwa Rifahie, representing the Council on American-Islamic Relations used her allotted time to focus on the Palestinian agenda, a conversation that I was told would not be a focus. I waited. When she called Israel an apartheid state…I waited. Where was the music? Where was someone asking her to remain on script? Who vetted this speaker? Why was I assured that anti-Semitic statements would not be permitted or tolerated in this anti-hate arena? Why was someone allowed to defend the organizers of the march in Washington? I used my voice, opinion and reputation to defend you, the founders that assured me, a Jewish woman was welcome and needed. I know I’m needed but today, I was not welcomed.
   My family and I left the March immediately after we heard this woman’s rhetoric. Almost meant to be, I ran into you, Emiliana and voiced my dismay, disappointment and sense of betrayal. I explained that Jewish leaders were assured time and time again to trust you; that I was personally promised that the agenda would not include hate against Israel, that the scheduled speakers would be screened and if off message, monitored and kept on script. And you, Emiliana apologized and hoped the next three hours of the March would look different. Perhaps I was meant to be at the March just to have this conversation and potentially prevent hate speech from infiltrating the remainder of a program that should focus on a united bipartisan cause of cultivating a nation where women feel heard and protected. But now, as a woman, mother and rabbi, I feel dejected, embarrassed and misled.
   Other Jewish women around me said, “That’s it. This is my last March.” Help me. Help me to bring Jewish voices into this fold. Help me to trust you again. Help me understand and believe that when you invite a lover of Israel to a march for women, my people won’t be attacked.
   If you want me back at next year’s March, someone like me better vet and screen your speakers. Someone like me must be willing to say anti-Zionist speech is the language of hatred and won’t be allowed on stage. But until you take this course of action, it will be quite a while until I give someone like you the benefit of the doubt.
   I held a sign that read, “Jewish and Proud Zionist standing for women’s equality.” My daughter’s sign read, “I march for kindness.” I hope to find a place where those signs are welcome and not attacked. It’s with the heaviest of hearts, that I admit I was wrong. This March was clearly not meant for me.
   I pray, next year, teshuvah, great repentance and change is taken to win back my trust. But today was not a day for all women, all people, all creeds and voices. When Israel is publicly attacked, my voice is silenced. I will not be silenced.
   If you want to learn how to include me in ensuring hate against Israel isn’t on next year’s agenda, I’m all ears. Until then, this March is over.

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