Congregation Beth Shalom
3750 East Third Street, Bloomington, IN 47401
(812) 334-2440 Office hours Monday Tuesday and Thursday 9-12 Wednesday 9-4:30 and Friday 9-3 Sunday 9-12
Congregation Beth Shalom is a house of community, of learning and of prayer that provides a unifying Jewish focus for its diverse membership as congregants explore their identity as Jews and their relationship as Jews to the larger community. To fulfill its mission, Beth Shalom offers communal activities; inreach to its members; outreach to the community; social welfare projects; education for children, teenagers, adults and families; and activities that foster spiritual exploration.
2013-2014 Membership Forms
Rabbi's Office Hours
Wednesday afternoons, 2:00 - 4:30 PM
Friday mornings, 9:30 AM - 12 PM
Sunday mornings, 10 AM - 12:30 PM*
(*Note: on certain Sunday mornings, I am committed at Machon, or elsewhere. Please call or e-mail ahead for verification.)
Rabbi Besser photo and bio
Our Rabbi in the News
The Gathering Lunch and Program, February 14, Thursday noon to 2 pm.
Avi Katz on "My Life as an Artist: The Funny Side of the Street"
Avi A. Katz is an Israeli illustrator who currently works in Bloomington as an artist and teacher. He has worked in animation and graphic arts in New York, Israel, and Canada. Avi was on the faculty at the famed Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Israel. You can view his work at www.aviakatz@com
BETH SHALOM: A STORY OF REDEMPTION
The Torah opens, of course, with the story of Creation, but it might just as well have opened with the story of Redemption. In fact, the preeminent sage Rashi himself suggests as much. In his own opening commentary to the Torah, he writes: "the Torah should have begun with the verse, 'this month, the month of redemption, shall mark for you the beginning of all months...,' (Exodus 12:1) except that the entire world is God's." (Rashi on Genesis 1:1) In other words, instead of setting our Hebrew calendars as we do, year 5773 since the creation of the world, we should mark time from the pivotal event of our emerging peoplehood, the exodus from Egypt, much as Muslims mark the years on their calendar starting with the nascent moment of their own history. The reason, concludes Rashi, that the Torah begins with Genesis is that it is concerned with not only the people of Israel but all nations. Israel's particular history cannot be severed from the universal destiny of all humanity.
Two great divine processes animate the world: Creation and Redemption. The Force of Creation is responsible for everything that exists around us -- in its awesome beauty as well as senseless cruelty. The Force of Redemption drives the hope that "what is" will someday be transformed into "what ought to be" -- pain overcome, injustice reversed, and society perfected. I contend that whereas the Force of Creation manifests itself broadly and universally, the Force of Redemption operates locally and on a case-by-case basis. The vision of the prophet, "they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks," (Isaiah 2:4) constitutes a utopian pipedream that will never materialize this side of Eden. However, redemption is surely available to the human individual, as well as to the small community of individuals bound together in common purpose, if we define redemption as carrying out one's mission and living harmoniously with oneself and with one's neighbors.
On a global scale, the Torah expresses the fundamental human condition of galut, spiritual exile. Every year on Simchat Torah, at the precise moment when we expect to see our ancestors culminate their journey by arriving in the Promised Land, we roll the scroll back to the beginning of Creation. However, the unfulfilled state of the world as a whole does not imply that our personal lives and our local communities must remain unfulfilled. Franz Rosenzweig once stated: "I do not seek salvation with my Father in Heaven someday, because I already live with my Heavenly Father today." (Nahum N. Glatzer, Franz Rosenzweig: His Life and Thought, p. xix) Rosenzweig meant that the observant Jew fully experiences redemption here on earth by immersing herself in communal worship, the cycle of the days of rest and the rhythm of the holy days that constitute the liturgical calendar, and, most of all, the performance of Mitzvot, which imbue the fleeting moment with the aspect of eternity. (Glatzer, p. xxv) Rosenzweig's prescription for a richly rewarding Jewish life can provide a blueprint for us as well.
The hackneyed directive "think globally, act locally" reflects a profound theological truth: redemption can only take place a little bit at a time. We should not lightly dismiss the supreme significance of redemption defined so narrowly. After all, the Talmud reminds us: "the one who sustains one life is considered as one who sustained an entire world." (mSanhedrin 4:5) Every person and every community is a world in microcosm. As Rabbi Green writes in Radical Judaism: our task, as Israel, is to be " a dwelling place for God in this world, a living mishkan, to constitute a human community in which God is present, in which that presence is felt from within and seen from without." (p. 131) Holiness may never pervade all of creation, but there's no reason why holiness cannot emanate from this one community in Bloomington, Indiana -- Beth Shalom.
By pure chance or serendipity, the Shabbat of my installation closed out exactly one complete Torah cycle since my interview weekend, when I first arrived in Bloomington. Our first year together began with Beshallach, depicting the exact moment that the Children of Israel cross the Sea into freedom, and concluded with Bo, recounting the culmination of the long struggle of the Israelites to achieve freedom. The Torah as a whole may start with the story of Creation, but it is entirely fitting that we write the next chapter of the chronicles of Beth Shalom starting with the story of Redemption. I am proud and honored to join with you in building a mishkan for the divine Presence to be actualized in the everyday activities of our community -- worshipping together, learning together, celebrating festivals and life cycles together, performing acts of tzedakah and tikkun olam, grieving with one another, and comforting one another. Furthermore, what we accomplish here at Beth Shalom can serve as a model for Jewish communities everywhere, indeed, for people everywhere. Redemption is achievable, Redemption is here, and Redemption is now.
It is difficult to find adequate words to describe our installation of our Rabbi, so I thought that I would just share some of what I found to be particularly moving over the weekend.
- The fact that so many of our members and other guests were in attendance at the Friday evening installation service. Wow!
- Rabbi Green's wisdom and insights at the Friday evening service, Saturday morning service, Torah study and Seudah Shlishit (Third Meal). I never imagined that I would be so affected by a neo-Hasidic mystical rebbe.
- Julie Bloom's directed Hashkiveinu meditation during the Friday evening. It was wonderfully relaxing, and thankfully, no one actually relaxed so much that they keeled over.
- Rabbi Mira's message of love, support, and sage advice to the congregation and Rabbi. I especially loved her words about being kind and patient.
- Kaia's music at the oneg on Friday evening - Erev Shel Shoshanim (Hebrew love song) and Ale Brider (aptly described as a "raucous stompin' song" in Yiddish). Two perfect songs for the occasion.
- The members who read or chanted from the Torah and Haftarah on Saturday morning. It is wonderful that we have in our community committed members who continue this and other important traditions.
- The beautiful Havdalah service at the end of our weekend. The group of us in a circle around Bruce Solomon as he played the guitar, the Rabbi held the braided candle, and we sang, drank wine, and smelled the spices.
- Our Rabbi surrounded by his parents, partner, mentor, and congregants during the weekend. What a beautiful sight.
And finally, the friendship, community, hard work, and support shown by our members throughout the weekend. In some ways, our congregation's spirit was the most inspiring aspect of all!
The beauty of this special weekend will stay with me for a long time.
Amy G. Applegate, President, Congregation Beth Shalom
For those interested in spending 10 minutes a day on study, the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) makes study available via email (can read or can listen to). Each day has a separate theme: Torah, Mishnah Day, Israel Connections, Delving into Liturgy, and Jewish World and Social Action. Select all five days or any combination. The link is: http://urj.org/learning/torah/ten/."