View from the President

Shabbat at Beth Am:
Time for Some Good Old Fashioned Ruach!

A message from Stuart Ratzan
President, Temple Beth Am

Shabbat. It’s a holy day. With the exception of Yom Kippur, Shabbat is as holy as, or holier than, any day on the Jewish calendar. But unlike Yom Kippur, Shabbat is not a somber time. To the contrary, Shabbat is a time to celebrate.

And it’s game on at Temple Beth Am. Friday night services. Saturday morning Torah study. Saturday minyan. B’nai Mitzvah. And Havdalah. Singing. Praying. Eating. Drinking. Being alive.

For millenia, we have recognized the importance of it. At Beth Am, we dream of offering our community an experience on Friday night that brings us together in celebration. We celebrate the relaxation and reflection that comes with actively separating the work week from the weekend, the mundane from the spiritual.

Senior Rabbi Jeremy Barras has a vision for our community on Friday nights. A vision that includes more and more of our community coming together to join in prayer and song, food and drink, love and laughter.

What can you expect from Friday night at Beth Am? As you arrive at the sanctuary, you gather with others from our community for wine and light snacks, sing songs of prayer over the candles and the kiddush cup, and then enter the sanctuary for services. Right away, the congregation is singing L’cha Dodi, welcoming the sabbath bride in the mystical tradition of our ancestors; and so the separation begins. There are prayers of healing, peace and community. We give thanks to G-d. The Rabbi delivers a Dvar, inspiring us to think about our lives in the context of this week’s Torah portion and sharing modern pearls of ancient and enduring wisdom. We are called upon to be our best as Jews and as human beings. Likely, there are at least two b’nai mitzvah warming up for their ensuing big day. There might be a baby naming or an auf ruf. And we finish the service with the mourner’s kaddish, giving strength to those of us in pain at the loss of a loved one, and giving blessed memory to those who have gone before us.

It’s an incredible ode to the entire life cycle, and a bonding experience for those in the room, all in one and one-half hour or less!

Without fail, every Friday night when I leave services, I feel a sense of completion and calm. I am touched by the breadth of the experience, reminded of each of life’s blessings. I gain perspective as I am reminded to celebrate life’s richness, and to celebrate it fully because it is certainly finite. I work hard during the week, and like most of you I feel the stresses and burdens of the workaday world. It is so easy to get consumed, and in the process to miss out on the true experience and adventure of life. If we don’t stop to be fully engaged with our families and friends, and to be mindful of the bigger picture in life, we risk living incomplete lives adorned only by our professional and material success. And so, we end up missing out on the part of life that truly matters: being fully present and responsive to our relationships, to the full breadth of emotion — the highs and the lows — that living a complete life offers us. We are all blessed to have Shabbat to keep us balanced and on track, to keep us in the present tense and capable of really living, not just being alive.

As temple president, I am committed to helping Rabbi Barras and the entire clergy team bring this magic to the entire congregation. We intend to bring more ruach to Friday night. We intend to add some fun and energy to the experience.

To that end, the clergy is always developing ways to enhance the service. Lay leadership, meanwhile, is embarking on a few modifications to the annual calendar at Beth Am. For one, we will be adding a catered dinner, a true oneg, the third Friday of every month. This will be an opportunity to eat, drink and be merry, to celebrate Shabbat with friends and family. We have a beautiful facility. Let’s use it to throw a party once a month!

Second, as part of our overall mission to enhance the experience of serving on our Board of Directors, we will be holding a board meeting on Friday, December 6th, at 4:30 pm. We will roll into Shabbat services and then hold a full-blown Shabbat dinner party, catered with food and drink, and dancing music!

We are working on other ideas and options for young families. And we are exploring options for the religious school, including holding classes on Friday afternoons with Shabbat services and festivities to follow. It’s as simple as doing Beth Am things (learning, board meetings, etc.) at Jewish times (Shabbat).

But we want to hear from you. What ideas do you have for Friday nights? How can Beth Am help you observe and experience the magic of Shabbat?

For me, Shabbat is a commitment, but it is no chore. It is a blessing, and it is the best time for a good time as we separate from the labor of our workaday world and enter those brief and cherished moments to be fully present and engaged with our families, our friends and our best selves.

Hope to see you soon!

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