A Word from our Student Rabbi

Shirah Kraus shares her thoughts on Torah, Jewish life, and her experience as a seminary student serving the B’nai Israel community.

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April 28, 2020

The first mile is a lie.

A few months ago, a community member shared these words with me. When running a marathon, they said, the key is to pace yourself. If the first mile is too fast and easy, you will probably suffer later. Or, if you start off a bit rocky and slow, you are likely to run the remainder of the race with more ease. The first mile is a lie. This first mile is like the first year of a new school, the first month of a new job, or the first week of living in a COVID-19 world. If this story is a book, we cannot judge it by its cover, or even the first chapter.

During this week of counting the omer (the seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot), we meditate on the value of netzach, perseverance. Netzach does not always come easily, but we need it now. Living in a COVID-19 world is more like running a marathon than a sprint. The question is, how do we maintain our mental and physical health, sustain our communities, and uphold our values for the long haul?

Be holy.

This week, we read a double Torah portion — Achrei Mot-Kedoshim. In Kedoshim, we read: kedoshim tihiyu, “You shall be holy” (Lev. 19:2). The form of the verb to be used here, “tihiyu” implies both command — be holy — and an action that will be performed in the future — you will be holy. As Elyse Goldstein interprets, this is “both a command for now and [a] promise for the future: we can and we will find ways to be holy” (The Torah: A Women’s Commentary 719). We recommit to holiness everyday: both an urgent and an eternal directive.

I pray that we find the strength to persevere and pull together, to have the courage to choose holiness both today and tomorrow, even during a pandemic. 

Shirah Kraus

April 5, 2020

Happy (almost) Passover

In just a few days, people around the world will gather with family and friends, few in person but many over Zoom, for Pesach Seders. Seder, what we call the festive holiday ritual, means order. With all of the chaos in our world, still incomprehensible for many of us, endless days that seem to bleed into each other, and hour after hour on video conferences, many of us need an extra dose of order in our lives. 

As you get ready to celebrate this holiday of liberation, I hope you find joy and solace in creating seder in your homes and your hearts. No matter how you choose to observe this holiday–from sanitizing every inch of your house of leavened bread to eating a piece of matzah on day one–, now is a great time to do some spring cleaning and bring order to life in ways that are meaningful to us.

Upcoming Events:

Since the community seder was canceled, many community members have made alternative seder plans. If you do not have plans to host or join an intimate or virtual seder, but want to, please reach out to the student rabbi, Shirah Kraus, and we can help you find something that works for you (shirah.kraus@huc.edu). 

Instead of hosting a seder, we will be hosting prayer, study, and shmoozing events for Shabbat Saturday during Passover, April 11.  Then, the next Friday, April 17, we’ll gather via Zoom for music prayer, and Shabbat reflections. More information is being sent to newsletter subscribers.

Wishing you health, order, and peace,

Shirah Kraus

February 4, 2020

Food for Thought…

There is a story about an older woman who was planting trees. A younger man approached her and asked, “Why are you planting these trees? Surely you will not live long enough to enjoy their fruits!” The woman answered, “That is true. But look around at all of the trees that surround us. Because others planted them for me, I too feel responsible to do the same for the next generations.” 

This is one of my favorite stories: it reminds us that we have a responsibility to provide for the future, not just for ourselves. It reflects the message on a bumper sticker that my brother used to have on his car: “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” We may be weary of politics and efforts by some simply to promote themselves, but if we look closely, we can see that we are surrounded by leaders as well. 

We see members of our synagogue community working tirelessly to drain the basement, buy supplies, or bake a challah for oneg. We recognize parents, grandparents, and teachers who impart their stories and teachings unto us. We pay attention to young people and others around the world standing up for a better future. 

Just two weeks ago, my eight-grade history teacher, Elizabeth Ormsby, died of cancer at the age of 49. Mrs. Ormsby was the kind of person who thought of the next generation. She empowered us with our own copies of the Constitution, which she lovingly (and a bit eccentrically) referred to as “swords of justice.” A big part of what made her so special was how she made others feel special, too. 

The best leaders help us to see that we are leaders, too, in our own way. We each have the power to plant trees and inspire others. 

Consider: who planted “trees” for you? What are the “trees” that you aspire to plant for the next generation? 

This weekend…

This is no ordinary Shabbat! We have a special holiday and special guests joining us. Coming up on the 10th of February is the birthday of the trees, Tu B’shvat. We will be commemorating this day together with an accessible and hands-on Tu B’shvat seder instead of Friday night services. Come ready to eat some fruits, get your hands a little messy and celebrate our natural world!

We will be joined by two special guests–my father, Rabbi Matthew Kraus, and my 11-year-old sister, Eden. On Saturday, Rabbi Kraus will lead a special Tu B’shvat text study wherein we will dive into what the Torah has to say about trees AND life at the same time. This will be followed by a continuation of our adult education on rituals. If you missed our last session, you can easily join in! We are taking a broader view of rituals to consider the following questions: What are rituals? What purpose do they serve? We will also have some time to brainstorm and innovate our own rituals. 

7:30 pm, Friday February 7: Tu B’Shvat Dessert Seder

10:00 am, Saturday February 8: The Torah of Trees text study with Rabbi Matthew Kraus

11:00 am, Saturday February 8: Adult Education on Ritual

A Taste of Torah…

Since we are celebrating Tu B’shvat in place of our usual Torah engagement, I just wanted to note that this weekend is also Shabbat Shirah (Shabbat of Song), the Shabbat wherein the Israelites leave Egypt and recite the Song of the Sea, shirat hayam. This poem is written in a unique way, to look like the waves of the sea which the Israelites crossed to freedom. A copy of what it looks like in the Torah is shown here. To learn more about this week’s chapter of Torah, go here

I look forward to seeing you this weekend. And as always, please feel free to reach out with any questions at shirah.kraus@huc.edu.

Shabbat Shalom,

Shirah Kraus
Student-Rabbi
HUC-JIR Cincinnati

December 4, 2019

אָכֵן֙ יֵ֣שׁ יְהוָ֔ה בַּמָּק֖וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וְאָנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי׃
Achen, yesh Adonai bamakom hazeh v’anochi lo yadati

Behold, God is in this place and I did not know it (Genesis 28:16). 

Over the Thanksgiving break, I found myself in a sing-along bar in New York City, encountering lyrics from Little Shop of Horrors. This is a musical previously unfamiliar to me is about a “terrifying enemy,” a man-eating plant that appeared “In the seemingly most innocent and unlikely of places” (“Prologue/Little Shop of Horrors”). But just as evil can come from surprising places, great good can emerge as well. 

I have a friend whose positivity and ability to be present never cease to amaze me. When I asked Ben where this endless optimism came from, he told me that he holds onto these words which Jacob uttered in this week’s Torah portion, Vayetze: “Achen, yesh Adonai bamakom hazeh v’anochi lo yadati.” Behold, God is in this place and I did not know it (Genesis 28:16). 

Jacob has just fled home after stealing his brother’s birthright. He stops for the night and dreams of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. God speaks to him and when he awakens, these are the words that Jacob proclaims. For my friend, Ben, living by these words means treating each moment as an opportunity for holiness, learning, and meaning. 

What does it mean to us for God to “be in this place?” How can we be alert to danger, but also to holiness, to God’s presence? Join us this weekend to contemplate and discuss these questions as we pray and learn together. 

Shabbat Evening Services: Friday, December 6 at 7:30 pm

Join us in prayer and music (some with guitar), including a special song for this week’s Torah portion. The student rabbi will deliver a sermon on the Torah portion as well. 

If you have not joined us for Torah Study or Adult Education, consider trying it out. Topics are chosen based on students’ interests and sessions are conducted with intention and creativity. All types of learners are welcome. 

Torah Study: Saturday, December 7 at 10:00 am

This week, we will delve deeper into the text of Parashat Vayeitze, the Torah portion. We will have some time to discuss the portion in light of our own dreams and the presence of the divine in our lives.

Adult Education: Saturday, December 8 at 11:00 am

Adult Education this year is “Anything But Text,” i.e. a survey of different Jewish topics. Using various case studies, we have the opportunity to learn each month about something in the Jewish world–and in the process, learn something about our community and ourselves. Thus far, we have studied Jewish Identity in the Former Soviet Union and examined connections between Judaism and justice. This week, we will be exploring rituals in transition, focusing on the mezuzah as an example — and we will even get to design our own rituals. 

I look forward to seeing you this weekend. And as always, please feel free to reach out with any questions at shirah.kraus@huc.edu.

Shabbat Shalom,

Shirah Kraus

November 15, 2019

Shalom!

In this week’s Torah Portion, Parashat Vayera, an often-overlooked character, Sarah’s slave, Hagar, finds herself stranded in the wilderness with no water and no hope. Then God opens her eyes to see a well of water. What does it mean that God opened her eyes?

What might it mean for us to open our eyes? To the need in our communities, to the power that we have, and to the goodness that surrounds us?

I look forward to exploring these questions with you on my upcoming visit this weekend as we pray together Friday night, learn together Saturday morning, and of course shmooze in between. On Saturday, we will have a special opportunity to dive into our text, explore tzedek or justice, in our lives, and create a special tzedek box to take home so we may continue the practice and thinking.

I look forward to seeing you this weekend. And as always, please feel free to reach out with any questions at shirah.kraus@huc.edu.

B’shalom,
Shirah Kraus

 

September 20, 2019

Shalom! My name is Shirah and I will be serving as B’nai Israel’s student rabbi this year. While studying full-time at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in order to become a rabbi, I will travel to Grand Forks once a month (as well as for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). During my visits, I will lead erev shabbat (Friday night) services as well as Saturday morning Torah study and adult education classes. This year, we will have the opportunity to dive into contemporary issues, the weekly Torah portion, and living a Jewish life. I am also available to meet with congregants and teach younger students. 

It was wonderful to meet so many kind and welcoming people on my first visit last weekend. I enjoyed learning about Grand Forks–its proximity to Canada and Minnesota, the importance of the weather, the need for caution in the face of bears and moose (who sometimes wander onto the football field), and the local love of “chippers.” I felt embraced by kindness and enjoyed discussing everything from the potato bowl to Toni Morrison — I look forward to building stronger relationships and meeting people I did not get a chance to meet on future visits. In the meantime, you can learn more about me by reading my bio here and feel free to peruse the upcoming services and events. 

Finally, as we prepare for the High Holy Days during this Hebrew month of Elul, I would like to share an excerpt from Psalm 27, which is customarily recited during this month. This particular Psalm can be a source of strength and comfort for us as we navigate challenges in our personal lives, in the Jewish world–for example, as we work to support the Jewish community in Duluth and elsewhere–and in our world as a whole:

יְהוָ֤ה ׀ אוֹרִ֣י וְ֭יִשְׁעִי מִמִּ֣י אִירָ֑א יְהוָ֥ה מָֽעוֹז־חַ֝יַּ֗י מִמִּ֥י אֶפְחָֽד׃

Adonai is my light and my help; whom should I fear? Adonai is the stronghold of my life, whom should I dread?

To whom or what do you look to for help? What or who is a source of light and a stronghold in your life?

Please reach out if I can be of service to you. My email is shirah.kraus@huc.edu

Sincerely,
Shirah Kraus