Welcome to Temple Israel
For our worship and learning schedule
including Zoom links, please visit
Virtual Temple Israel
in National Reform Rabbis’ Journal
Last spring, I began work on guest-editing a symposium issue of The CCAR Journal, the professional journal of the Reform rabbinate, on “Halachah (Jewish Law) and Reform Judaism.” This has been a passion project for me: as you may know, halachah (Jewish law) is the focus of my doctoral work, and it was a distinct honor to be asked by the editor-in-chief of the Journal to compile and edit this issue. I am proud and excited to tell you that the completed issue has just been published, and among the many articles by some of the Reform Movement’s leading scholars and distinguished rabbis is an outstanding essay by our own Rabbi Deana Sussman Berezin about the role of Jewish law in guiding the work of the Tri-Faith Community Garden. Click here to read Rabbi Berezin’s article, and click here to read my introduction to the symposium issue. I invite you to read them and to share your thoughts with us; we would be delighted and honored to discuss them with you. I am also including an image of the cover, which lists all the essays in the issue. If you see an article you are interested in reading, please let me know and I will be happy to share it with you in pdf form.
The publication of this issue is something we can all be proud of as a Temple Israel community. It marks an important contribution by your clergy team to the intellectual and spiritual conversation taking place within the international Reform Movement. Indeed, Rabbi Dr. Joan Friedman, the current chair of the CCAR Responsa Committee (the central Reform rabbinic body on Jewish law) wrote to our colleagues and me this week that “I do believe that this volume is, and will quickly be recognized as, one of the key texts in the history of Reform Judaism.” While that remains to be seen, I am confident that we have produced something that will be impactful in the Reform Jewish world, and in so doing, we hope we have brought honor to Temple Israel. Rabbi Berezin and I are grateful to you for your support of our scholarship.
I invite you to join me for my new weekly class on “Jewish Law & the Quest for Meaning,” which meets Wednesdays, Noon-1 p.m. at https://zoom.us/j/236295348. In this class, we explore Jewish law and philosophy in-depth, mining classical and contemporary halachic texts for values, ideas, and insights that enrich our experience as modern Reform Jews. Our discussions so far have been thoughtful and thought-provoking, and I think you would enjoy them. Rabbi Berezin will also be teaching a class in the coming weeks about her essay on the Tri-Faith Garden, so please watch the eTidings for details.
Thank you again for your ongoing support for and interest in our work!
In peace and gratitude,
Rabbi Brian Stoller
Judaism teaches us that human life is not flat and one-dimensional but, rather, textured, complex, and multi-layered. Oftentimes, good and bad, sorrow and joy, narrow straits and broad horizons of opportunity are bound up together in the same moment. This is such a moment. The pandemic and the shutdown have wrought such pain – physical, economic, emotional, psychological; so many lives have been devastated and lost. At the same time, our communities, by and large, have come together, transcending our individuality for the common good – and as a result, lives have been saved, new bonds of connection have been formed in unexpected ways, and we are seeing the astounding human capacity for care, compassion, and creativity come to life every day. All of these things are real, the good and the bad, and they are worthy of our acknowledgement – for Judaism reminds us that we have the capacity to hold conflicting truths at the same time. We hope you are staying healthy and safe during this trying time, and that in some way, you are also finding connection, meaning, inspiration, and purpose.
As April comes to an end, we are writing to update you on what is happening at Temple Israel and our plans for our congregation going forward.
First, we are pleased to tell you that we officially welcomed our new Executive Director Nate Shapiro to our team this week. For the next month, Nate will be meeting with our professional staff and working closely with our outgoing Executive Director Dennis DePorte to learn the operational side of Temple Israel. Nate will take over as our full-time Executive Director upon Dennis’ retirement at the end of May. We are looking forward to the future under Nate’s leadership.
Second, as you are probably aware, last week Governor Ricketts announced new guidelines allowing religious institutions the discretion to begin re-opening within certain parameters beginning May 4. Our clergy, executive, and lay leadership teams have been engaged in extensive conversation about how Temple Israel ought to operate going forward in light of this change. After careful consideration and listening to voices of our members, we have determined that because the state of the pandemic in Nebraska remains highly volatile and uncertain, the time has not yet come for Temple Israel to re-open our facility. Therefore, our building will remain closed for the time being: our clergy and professional teams will continue to work from home, and services, classes, meetings, and our many other opportunities for connection will continue to take place virtually. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and update you as the situation develops.
While it is difficult in so many ways not to be able to be together as a congregation in person, we are extraordinarily proud of the work our team has been doing to serve our community and keep us connected during this time of physical isolation. We are investing our energies and resources in the three core areas – spiritual sustenance, caring for our members in need, and social justice – and we are proud to report that our congregation is responding positively to them. Below is an overview of what we are doing in each of these areas. We invite you to find your pathway and get involved in ways that are meaningful to you.
- Spiritual Sustenance. Attendance at Friday night services and Shabbat morning Torah study has markedly increased since the shutdown began. We have also added new opportunities for prayer and spiritual connection, some of which are already thriving and others which are upcoming.
- Caring for Our Members in Need. Our Caring Community has established a “Caring Buddies” program through which congregants are checking in with each other regularly to offer friendship, support, and a listening ear. We are also making calls to every member of our congregation to ask how they are doing and offer our support. To get involved, please contact Cantor Alexander or Mindi Marburg.
- Social Justice. Our Social Justice Committee is collecting donations to help members of Temple Israel who are in crisis due to the pandemic, and to provide needed support to people in the broader Omaha community through the Omaha Community Foundation. To donate, please click here.
We find ourselves now in a complicated and trying moment. Good and bad, sorrow and joy, loneliness and connection – these are all part of our reality. As we remain in isolation together for a while longer, we invite you to find strength, comfort, connection, and holiness in our virtual congregation. As the psalm, which has become our anthem, says: “Min ha-meitzar karati yah; anani va-merchav yah – We call out to God from the narrow place of our isolation; God answers us in the broad place of our interconnectedness.”
In gratitude and peace,
Rabbi Brian Stoller, Senior Rabbi
Dennis DePorte, Executive Director
Nate Shapiro, Incoming Executive Director
Andie Gordman, President
Dan Gilbert, Incoming President
Our Mission: We will engage our community with a modern spiritual, educational and social Jewish experience that uplifts our lives.
Our Vision: To be an inclusive, connected and expanding Reform Jewish community.
Our Goals: Torah, Tzedakah, Tikun Olam