Sunday, July 30, 2023

Shabbat Nachamu - A Positive Viduii (by Avi Weiss) - Betsy Teutsch D'rash

Parshat V'etchanan/Shabbat Nachamu -July 29, 2023 - Shabbat Shalom.

I want to dedicate this D’rash to two of our minyan teachers whose Torah has stuck with me, Rabbi Avruhm Addison and Christina Ager and informed my davar.

As we read Parshat Vaetchanan, we are in the first Shabbat of the seven known as the Shabbatot of Consolation, named for today’s Haftarah’s words, Nachamu - Comfort. After the tragic destruction commemorated on Tisha B’Av, and for many the events in Israel this week, we reach a liturgical nadir. 

Now we look ahead seven weeks to the High Holidays. This is the beginning of the reverse 49 Omer, if you will, to complete our Chesbon HaNefesh, the accounting of our soul, and then we will confess our bad deeds on Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur.

In this parshah God is the source and enforcer of a code of behavior, in a manifestly hierarchical system. God has all the power. We should not disobey God’s laws. There’s no justification or explanation for the Torah’s laws; it’s because God Said So. You want proof? Look at creation. Who else could have done this?

And if you don’t obey, you will be punished big time.

If you stick with the program, you and your progeny will thrive.

 “For your God יהוה am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me,

וְעֹ֥֤שֶׂה חֶ֖֙סֶד֙ לַֽאֲלָפִ֑֔ים לְאֹהֲבַ֖י וּלְשֹׁמְרֵ֥י (מצותו) [מִצְוֺתָֽי]׃ {ס}    

but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

This world view and theology is obviously not how we moderns think. It reflects a period of competitive local Gods, with tribal clan structure. YHVH is an all powerful, non-local, God. This was a new concept. As is the idea of God’s abstract nature. Hence the Ten Commandments, in today’s parshah, emphasize worshiping one God, and no others. No idols, like the other peoples!

Deuteronomy reviews all that God did for our people, and our indebtedness. Fidelity is required; infractions will be punished. 

This is why the middle paragraph of the Kol Haneshamah Shma has a different choice - it’s not about reward and punishment. We think in terms of  behavior and consequences.

We must find a balance between the God of Judgment, so present in this Parsha, and the God of Compassion and Mercy, whom we continually seek, especially as we approach the High Holidays.

Din is the strict and severe aspect of God judging us and doling out punishment for what we did wrong and reward for what we did right. And Rachamim (which comes from the word “womb” or “rechem”) is the soft aspect of God’s love and caring for us, no matter what, just because we are God’s children. - Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg

In our world we emphasize examining our behavior, not worrying much about our ritual infractions. Average people cut corners more than they sin big! We don’t typically worry about God keeping score.

A corner cutting example: our great nephew Zeke included an early grade school song in his Bar Mitzvah davar, “Do The Right Thing Because It’s RIght, even if no one’s watching!” He got us all to sing it.

Later that week David and I debated about how to handle our VRBO. We had paid for two adults for a week, but for a few days our kids and grandkids were with us. There wasn’t any method to reserve for a partial week of added guests on the website. Our host wasn’t watching, but we weren’t following the rules.

As we wrapped up our rental, I texted our host the facts: 2 adults and 2 kids had joined us for 3 nights. His reply was, “Don’t worry about it!” It felt right to have been truthful, though we well might have owed more.

The opening of the season of seven weeks of pre-High Holiday preparation, focusing on self-reflection to accomplish tshuvah, returning ourselves to the right path, goes about things in ways that I find personally ineffective. 

Today I want to help us get started by using what we know from behavioral science - I am not alone in resisting negative assessment: People need positive reinforcement. In a d’rash many years ago, Christina Ager, a professor of education, taught us that to help students improve their behavior, they need 5 times as much positive feedback as negative. Our hand is a handy digital counter.

Beating up on ourselves is not very effective.

We need to recognize what we have done correctly to motivate us to keep on doing it, and doing it even more. We of course shouldn’t highlight positives while failing to hold ourselves accountable for bad deeds, but flipping the balance of positive to negative can be more efficacious.

Cultivating and emulating God’s compassion to God’s creatures, and extending it to  ourselves, is important. We need to extend it to others, as well, moving when we can from judginess to generous love, tempering our judgements by dan bcaf z’chut, withholding judgment and ascribing good intentions to the actions of others.

“According to midrash Pesikta Rabbati 40, “Initially, God intended to create the world with the attribute of Justice. But then God saw that the world cannot exist [with only Justice], so God gave priority to the attribute of Mercy, and joined it with the attribute of Justice.” 

When I shared my frustration with the negative tone of our liturgy with Rabbi Avruhm Addison, he shared a Positive Vidui written in 2016 by Rabbi Avi Weiss [it's at the beginning of this post. ]I keep it in my machzor. For today, I reformatted it so you can more clearly how beautifully the Hebrew and English connect.

We’re going to experiment today with sharing positive messages about: OURSELVES. That is something we are socially conditioned to avoid, as it might be perceived as bragging. 

In small groups, please share:

  1. A positive change you have been successful in making, and stuck with. It could be big, or it can be as small. “I always have dollar bills to share with people on the street”, or “I compost”. You might say, “I go to morning minyan every Thursday.” 

  2. Or, something you have stopped doing, and managed to stick with. You may   have managed to refrain from something for decades - give yourself credit.

No judgments, but you need to take turns saying things you have managed to do (or not do) consistently, through making an effort.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Happy 36th Anniversary, Dorshei Derekh!

Longtime member, Rabbi Robert Tabak, as a historian and lover of ritual, has kept track of our milestones. He encouraged us to celebrate 36 years and pulled together a committee to do so: Jane Century, Fredi Cooper, Rachel Falkove, Dick Goldberg, Malkah Binah Klein, and Bob. 

Rabbi Malkah Binah, our service leader, shared:

We agreed that our priorities are to build a strong and loving sense of community, to have a musical service with a strong spiritual focus and a lively Torah discussion, to be open, creative and flexible, and to reach out to and include new people.   (From minutes of planning meeting in 1986 for what would become Dorshei Derekh)

Rabbi Tamara Cohen, unable to be with us in person, shared a poem:

Mizmor l’dorshim

    A psalm for the seekers

    Seekers of the path 

    With tambourine and tallit 

    With dishes to wash and stories to tell

    We call on one another alternating gender or not, muting and unmuting on our zoom squares, visiting     the sick, learning how to welcome and how not to harm.

    We call one another to Torah - for birthdays and yartzeits, for gratitude and healing, for wonder and        honor, pebbles and milestones.

    We call on the Source of Life, on foremothers or six.

    Choosing not chosen, we arrive at thirty six, hai plus hai, two strands of life, original members and         newer ones, the ones that left and came back and the ones that stayed. 

    Lidrosh: to seek, also to interpret and reinterpret.

    Seekers of the path,  

    through quiet and talk,

    Prayer and song. 

Rabbi Fredi Cooper bestowed an original blessing upon us:

A Blessing for Dorshei Derekh on the Occasion of the 36th Anniversary

               Shabbat Parashat Naso: June 3, 2023/ 14 Sivan 5783

And so, today, we have lifted up each head

We have been lifting up each one of us for thirty- six years

And in this lifting, we have been sure to count carefully, each one

This is the blessing that has marked the vitality of our minyan

We have been seekers together through these years

And in our seeking we see each other….taking on a bit of the almighty

Thirty- six is a number so rich in it’s meaning and it brings blessing to our kahal, our sacred community

It marks now, that the minyan has lasted a double portion in life

But even more thirty- six is equal to Lamed, Vav

We learn that the world must contain at least 36 righteous individuals

At Dorshei Derekh we embrace the righteousness in each one of us

We help the other to step in the right direction in life

We embrace and recognize that at any time, any moment, one of us who is present

Could be one of those thirty- six

And if it is so, we hope to learn from that righteous one

On the first day of creation, God created the light

It is said that, that light burned for exactly 36 hours

May we continue to be lifted together toward the best light

And may we continue to come together in celebration, in prayer, in righteousness and justice

And together, may we always seek what is best in life

And find it here

With full hearts we say, Amen

And Student Rabbi Maria Pulzetti shared a teaching from her 2019 Bat Mitzvah in abstentia:

In Ahavah Rabah we pray,

v’haeir eynenu btoratecha –

light up our eyes with Your Torah.

That phrase evokes Sinai,

when our people gathered at the mountain, early,

seeking a glimpse of the Divine.

In place of the unseeable, the face of God,

we received the light of Torah.

Each day we pray that its glow will fuel us anew

as we listen, learn, and teach,

keep, perform, and fulfill,

with love.

We push and stretch and birth;

lean out, and draw our edges together.

Maybe today, we pray, we will dare

to love our neighbor with the deep love that bathes us.

Maybe today we will confront the legacy of slavery;

we will stop standing idly by;

we will center the needs of the poor, the sick, the mourners;

we will illuminate the laws of Torah

with the love poured upon us,

and with light in our eyes

we will listen.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Adina Abramowitz: Community Development Finance Mighty Woman


From :

As #WomensHistoryMonth comes to a close, we want to feature a woman who has been in the Community Development Financial Institution industry since its inception—our very own, Adina Abramowitz! Adina began her career in this field in 1987, working for a new nonprofit small business lender in Camden, NJ, known as CBAC. Today it would be called a CDFI, but the term "CDFI" was not established until 1994. 

Adina was drawn to the position because of a desire to make a difference and she saw that financing could be a tool to address social justice issues. She was instrumental in the early development of the CDFI industry through her work at Opportunity Finance Network, and in 2006 she launched her own consulting firm to help CDFIs develop and implement transformational strategies.

In 2018, Adina was contacted by her former colleague Mark Pinsky to help with a project in Bloomington, IN, which became the 1st CDFI Friendly city and helped form the CDFI Friendly strategy. After years of working with individual CDFIs, Adina enjoys how working at CDFI Friendly America has given her a fresh perspective—seeing and trying to solve for all of the credit needs in underserved communities. We at CDFI Friendly America are very grateful to have access to her wisdom and experience. Her advice to anyone entering the Community Development Finance space, "Be about positive change. Be about abundance. Be about spreading out opportunity. Be about expanding the pie."

Monday, March 6, 2023

Purim 5783/2023


Happy Purim!

This year we have raised over $1000 towards to split between charities who feed people. One is in our neighborhood, the Germantown Community Fridge. The other supports low-income women in need of assitance procuring Passover provisions, the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society.

The baskets are made of coconut fiber. They are used as liners for hanging plants, but you can really use them just as a bowl or basket. If you're not finding a use for them, just give yours back. We can use them again next year!

The lace is fairtrade, from a company that went out of business, sadly, and we were able to purchase them at steep discount. Irish nuns originally taught the women of this community in India to make lace. Machine-made lace tanked their business but they did revive it.

Sheila Erlbaum's crane

Thanks to all who worked on this project, one of the most joyful of the year:


Phyllis Berman, Jane Century, Fredi Cooper, Dayle Friedman, Pesha Leichter, Ruth Loew, Jennifer Paget, Sharon Strauss, and Esther Wiesner

Contributors of contents:

Lynne Jacobs, Irene McHenry, and Sharon Strauss.

Origami artists: Eleanor Brownstein and Sheila Erlbaum

Assemblers and Deliverers:

Eleanor Brownstein, Chana Dickter, Grace Flisser, Lynne Jacobs, Sharon Strauss & Sonia Voynow

Captain: Betsy Teutsch

                                            Eleanor demonstrating how the origami frogs jump.