Author Archives: rabbiallisonberry

Inspiring Student!

Teaching 8th grade can be tough. At the same time, there are always reminders of why this challenging age group is special! Last week the Temple Shalom 8th grade class spent time thinking about Jewish identity. Each student was asked to create “something” – a poem, drawing, skit, etc depicting their interpretation of their own Jewish identity.

I want to share with you a poem written by Amanda – one of our 8th grade students. I know you will be as inspired as I was!!

Identity Poem

A thousand years ago, my people walked the desert sands for 40 years.

They walked because they were Jewish, and they were escaping from a place where they were treated like something lower.

They were treated like this because they were Jewish; they were worse than anyone else, like they were cockroaches on the floor of the house instead of the people inside.

And so they walked, they walked to be free from the idea that they were below everyone else.


70 years ago, my people were killed because they were Jewish. They were forced to wear a yellow star to identity themselves.

To identify them as something lower, something worse. Someone to be spit at, and kicked at, and treated like the dirt on which they walked. They were taken away from their homelands. The lands on which their fathers lived, and their fathers before them. And they were killed.


65 years ago my people created a state. A state where they could be free. Where they were not below anyone but at the same level; equal.


Amanda’s words are thoughtful! I really appreciate reading how she relates to parts of Jewish history, the exodus from Egypt, the Holocaust and the State of Israel. It is important to me that we foster our students so they care about being Jewish.  How have you inspired your children to think differently about their Jewish identity??

Kulanu, “All of Us”

Kulanu (“All of us”) is a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning Temple Shalom members and their supporters. This year, they have been hard at work advocating to the synagogue community the need for attention, acceptance and understanding. Last Wednesday night, Kulanu members introduced themselves to members of the board of trustees. They spent time telling their individual stories and inviting temple members to attend a community-wide discussion on inclusion in the Temple Shalom community scheduled for March 11 from 6-8 PM. Everyone is invited to attend this very important conversation!

Below is a letter written to the board of trustees by Sarah Ze’eva Berman. Sarah is a college student who is active in our Temple Shalom community. She became Bat Mitzvah in our sanctuary and was involved with the high school program and NFTY. She is truly a gifted musician and an aspiring Jewish leader. Sarah’s powerful words are an inspiration to all of us. They are also a great introduction to the work of Kulanu and why this group is needed in the Temple Shalom community.

Board of Trustees Presentation

By Sarah Ze’eva Berman

Temple Shalom is not a homophobic place by any stretch of the imagination. 

As a semi-out (not shouting it to the world, but happy to talk about it if asked) queer high schooler at temple shalom, I never experienced any hateful or hostile words or behavior. 

What was made it slightly difficult for me, though, was a feeling of a push to be invisible. To my memory, apart from the screening of the film Hineini by Keshet (The Jewish Community’s LGBTQ Advocacy Organization) (which I thought was fantastic), there was no affirmation of acceptance within the temple shalom community. 

I always questioned whether putting myself out there as a queer teenager would ruffle people’s feathers the wrong way and that I would suddenly be seen as “that gay teenager” that was pushing my agenda in people’s faces. However, I chose to let my sexuality become a known fact about me for anyone that cared. And, though I’ve never had any expressly negative experiences regarding being queer as Temple Shalom, I’ve never felt a true sense of acceptance and welcoming from the community. 

Being an out queer is something I chose to do, even though I probably did ruffle a few people’s feathers in the process. But the point is that being out shouldn’t have to be some radical thing. There are queer kids at temple who haven’t come out yet (I can promise you that). And the lack of a vibe of acceptance and warmth preceding their choice to come out can be the deal breaker for them as they decide whether or not they feel comfortable choosing to share an important part of themselves with the temple community. 

It is not hatefulness or hostility towards the queer community that needs to change at Temple Shalom. That has never been a problem in the years I’ve been at temple. What needs to arise is a sense of welcoming, of warmth, and of acceptance for all members of the LGBT+ community. In such an environment, hopefully kids at temple questioning their sexuality right now don’t have to wonder whether temple would be an accepting place for them to express who they are. 

My Hebrew school teacher Michelle D. was an inspiration. Really, truly. She was open enough to, when we asked why she was leaving, to tell us that she was moving to Florida to be with her girlfriend. At the time, I was… ten? eleven? I don’t remember. But the fact that she was willing to share that part of her life with us made me respect her so much as a person. I’m so sorry she had to leave. I think she set a precedent that should be followed. She was brave enough to be out to her students and become an inspiration to me. 

I think, if Temple Shalom creates a more welcoming environment, we can create a more open and sharing environment that will benefit… everyone.

The film Hineini was great but the impact of it didn’t reach far enough. It was quite a moving film for me, and the discussion afterward led by Keshet was fantastic. But for those for whom the movie didn’t resonate on such a personal level, it was seen, appreciated, and then basically forgotten. If we want events like that to have more impact, LGBT+ active acceptance and welcoming attitudes need to be embraced as a part of the atmosphere of the temple.

Musings about Literature…

This week, Joe Winkler in the Huffington Post published a book review, “Engaging Palestinian Literature: A Jewish Journey Into Empathy.” He speaks of his experience and difficulty reading the novel, “I Saw Ramallah” by Mourid Barghouti. It occurred to me that many of us know little to nothing about literature written by Palestinians be they citizens of Israel or living in other places across the globe. This summer when preparing for my Temple Shalom class focused on modern poetry of the State of Israel I spent time reading poetry written by Palestinian Israelis as well as Jewish Israelis. I even chose to include a few of the poems in class. The time spent in this learning exercise proved to me how ignorant I was about this important genre of Middle Eastern literature.

Reading Palestinian literature is emotionally difficult. As Winkler also questions in his article – should one try to maintain the perspective of an outsider when reading this type of work or should we view this literature from the lens of a Jews and perhaps Zionists?

Take a look at this article and let me know what you think:

Please post your comments and responses on the blog!!


Torah Thoughts – Parshat Vayera


OVERVIEW OF PORTION (from A Torah Commentary for Our Times –Rabbi Harvey Fields — UAHC)

Parashat Vayera begins with the visit of three men to Abraham.  He welcomes them with generous hospitality, and they promise that Sarah will soon bear a son.  When the men depart for the city of Sodom, God appears to Abraham and tells him that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are about to be destroyed because of the sinful behavior of their residents.  Abraham protests, asking God not to destroy innocent people along with the guilty ones.  God promises that, if there are as few as even ten innocent people in the cities, they will not be destroyed.  Afterwards, two men-angels warn Lot to leave Sodom..  He escapes the next morning as fire rains down upon the cities, but his wife looks back and is turned into a pillar of salt.  Abraham travels to the Negev, there Abimelech, king of Gerar, sees Sarah and wants her for a wife.  Fearing the king, Abraham claims that Sarah is his “sister.”  The king takes her as a wife, but God appears to him and reveals Sarah’s real identity.  Abimelech returns her to Abraham along with a great bounty.  As the visitors to Abraham had predicted, Sarah bears a son whom they name Isaac.  After a few years, Sarah persuades Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away, claiming that only Isaac should inherit Abraham’s wealth and position.  Abraham agrees when God tells him that “I will make a nation of him (Ishmael).”  Several years later, God tests Abraham’s faith by ordering him to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah.  Isaac is saved at the last moment when God praises Abraham’s loyalty and tells him to sacrifice a ram in Isaac’s place.


Last week the Temple Shalom Sisterhood hosted their magnificent Fall Fling. It was wonderful to see over 150 synagogue women share some great food, shopping and time together as they raised money to support Sisterhood programs that inspire the entire temple community. The notable guests of the evening were two appraisers from the television series Antiques Roadshow. Women were invited to bring heirloom items and have them appraised by the experts. It was exciting to see so many beautiful pieces of art, jewelry and furniture and learn something about their history.

But this Sisterhood event was not just about food, schmoozing and our luxury items! As each woman shared the story of her heirloom with the community the voices of many generations filled the social hall. For example, Marian Klein Co-President of Sisterhood brought a beautiful bracelet given to her by her mother. She spoke with me about the bracelet describing the priceless watch sliders her mother lovingly collected over many years. The words were Marian’s – but as she described the bracelet – I could see and hear her mother’s voice. For that brief moment, we connected with memories from the past and the stories that make each of us who we are.  And this was not my only encounter that evening with the matriarchs and patriarchs of our past. Each woman brought an item and told an important story.

This year’s Fall Fling symbolized the power and meaning of Temple Sisterhood. Women connecting over the generations to share the memories, strength, wisdom and stories that have made the Jewish people a living, breathing whole for thousands of years.

On this Shabbat we will read from the book of Genesis, Parashat Vayera. This difficult portion that we also read on Rosh Hashanah is a reminder of the matriarchs and patriarchs of our past. We read of our mother Sarah’s laugh as she learns she will give birth to Isaac. In this portion, our father Abraham argues with God that even one righteous soul can save the lives of thousands. Parashat Vayera teaches us of the love between a mother, Hagar and her son, Ishmael. And of course, we shudder at the image of the binding of Isaac upon the altar by our patriarch, Abraham. These voices of our past remind us of who and what we are.

What are the values of Parashat Vayera that are so important? This portion teaches that we are a people who value future generations, reveling in the miracle of children. We are a people who fight for justice. We are a people who place the love of family above all. We are a people who will not sacrifice the ones we love.

Ultimately, Parashat Vayera teaches us about the value of human life. Unlike, other ancient Near Eastern cultures, God stays Abraham’s hand; Isaac does not become a sacrifice. Ultimately, the voices and items handed down through the generations have lasting value and teach us important lessons of love and sacrifice, memory and family.

As we learned from Sisterhood’s Fall Fling, for women, heirloom items in particular have important stories to tell. My mother died three years ago. Each and every day I wear a piece of jewelry that belonged to her. In this way I continue to keep her memory alive and feel a precious connection to items close to her heart and now to mine. In this way I add her voice to the voices of the matriarchs and patriarchs of our people – our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. In this way the generations of Parashat Vayera remain unbroken, our shalshelet hakabbalah – the chain of Torah and tradition that extends l’dor vador, from generation to generation, from that day to this.

Shabbat Shalom!

On Our Bookshelves (or Kindles)…

All three of us Temple Shalom rabbis love to read! Here are our picks for this month:

Post below and tell us what you are reading – we could always use some good ideas!

Rabbi Gurvis:

I am reading (only 3??? Are you kidding?)

1. My fun reading — The Litigators by John Grisham (just finished Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva)

2. Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality by Dr. Henry Cloud (one of the presenters at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Conference this summer with whom I am also taking an online course,)

3. We Are All Weird by Seth Godin (also a Willow Creek presenter)

4. And on my Kindle, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, A Letter in the Scrol

But I recommend everyone go to the New England Mobile Book Fair to buy books (or your local bookseller. It’s not that I don’t order online.  I do, but I prefer to be surrounded by the books).

Rabbi Hirsch:

Here’s what’s on my nightstand/kindle right now:

1. (The Jewish book on my nightstand) Margie Klein & Or Rose, Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice

2. Seth Godin, We are all Weird

Rabbi Berry:

1. Same as Rabbi Gurvis – I just finished The Litigators by John Grisham. Not his best work – but fun

2. For my American Jewish Short Story class – The Shawl and Rosa – short stories by Cynthia Ozick. Incredibly powerful – The Shawl has been haunting me for weeks.

3. (This one I’m embarrassed to admit) Toddler 411-Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Toddler by Dr. Ari Brown and Denise Fields. We all need a little help potty-training our two year olds…

4. My new favorite book – film is coming out soon – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.