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.


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


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.

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

Shirah Kraus