Union for Reform Judaism Member Congregation


This is my final column as your Intentional Interim Rabbi (2018–2019), a chance to look back on the year past, and to peek around the corner at what is yet to come. “Much will be the same this year, and much will be different,” I wrote in my first column last fall. And so it was.

Our High Holy Day services were held in the same space in which the congregation has gathered since 1926. This year on Rosh Hashanah we introduced the congregation’s first celebratory Group Aliyah—the bimah filled with children and adults, first-time attendees and longtime “legacy” members. Something different.

Your president made a Kol Nidre appeal, same as always. This year, given increased attention to finances, we introduced testimonials from congregants, and everyone who made a donation was thanked by letter. Something different.

We held monthly First Friday Family Shabbat services, same as in the past. This year we shortened the service, sat on the floor, and invited the youngest children to come in pajamas. Something different.

Gail Levine-Fried and Faye White-Willinger led their wonderful, calming and centering Shalom Meditation gatherings one Wednesday evening each month, same as in the past. This year we introduced meditation once a month into the Shabbat morning service. Something different.

Your rabbi has always been involved with your Religious School. This year transcripts of “Ask the Rabbi” sessions with each class were sent to parents and excerpted in The Bulletin so that everyone could listen in on the discussions. Something different.

Social Action has long been central to Union Temple’s mission. This year, we not only agreed  to host the Interfaith Refugee Seder, we brought Union Temple’s children and adults together in a joint Religious School/Social Action initiative (“The Bridge Project”) to aid Syrian refugees. Something different.

Our B’nai Mitzvah students have long participated in Shabbatonim. This year, we expanded our Friday night Shabbaton to include intergenerational text study—where Union Temple members whose B’nai Mitzvah were celebrated in the 1940s and 50s (!) studied alongside and engaged in discussion with students whose B’nai Mitzvah will be celebrated in 2019 and ’20. Something very different.

As always, Purim was a hoot. This year, clergy stepped aside a bit as our talented temple members and Religious School parents took part in chanting from the Megillah, telling the story in English, and singing original, 80s style “parody” songs. Something different.

As in the past, Adult Education was the focus of our Fourth Friday Shabbat. This year, given the transition, rather than bringing in speakers I provided a series of lectures myself—on the history of Reform Judaism, current issues affecting Reform congregations, and where all this may be going. Something different.

Still, as much as some things were different this year, very much remained the same at Union Temple. It would be an understatement to say that bigger changes are yet to come. By the time you read these words (I am writing this column in March) no doubt some very big news will have been announced. Preparing to take my leave from the congregation to which my family has connections dating back to 1929, I look forward to following the Union Temple story.

CORRECTION: In my column in the March/April issue of The Bulletin, Rabbi Simon R. Cohen was incorrectly identified. Rabbi Cohen had previously served Keap Street Temple and was, in 1921, one of Union Temple’s two founding rabbis. His Union Temple co-rabbi until 1929 was Rabbi Louis D. Gross, who had previously served Temple Israel. Upon merger of the congregations, services were held at first in the Temple Israel building.

Rabbi Mark Sameth


Ask the Rabbi: On Bones, Sharks, and Torah…  

On April 7, Rabbi Mark visited with Union Temple’s K/1 Class in the sanctuary for a session of “Ask the Rabbi.” Here’s a brief excerpt from that conversation:

Nadav: What does a bone look like? Rabbi Mark: A bone is hard and white. Your skull is made of bone. Touch your head. It’s hard, right? Now touch your belly. It’s soft, right? God made us hard and soft. God wants us to be strong and kind. The body tells us a lot about how God wants us to act in the world.

Levi: What does the brain look like? Rosie: It’s squishy and pink. Rabbi Mark: Rosie’s right!

Ayla: What does the Torah look like? Rabbi Mark: We’re going to see the Torah today!

Micah T: How do you keep that thing on your head? Rabbi Mark: Balance. It’s all about balance. When I had hair I used to use clips to keep my kipah (or yarmulke) on. Now it just sits there. Ayla: It’s like a suction cup!

Ben: How many teeth does a shark have? Rabbi Mark: Great question. I have no idea. Micah F: A million! When one falls out another one takes its place. OK, maybe not a million. Maybe pi or infinity.

Stanley: This is a Hebrew School. My family calls it “Sunday School” because we meet on Sundays. Why is it so big, I mean the building? Rabbi Mark: Union Temple used to have like 900 members! So they needed a big building. A lot of people moved away, but people are starting to come back.

Micah F: When’s your birthday? Rabbi Mark: My birthday’s in March. Micah F: You’re a water sign. I’m fire. Those are the two strongest elements. Rabbi Mark: You know, a long time ago there was a famous synagogue in Israel called the “Beth Alpha” synagogue, and they had those signs – called the signs of the Zodiac – in tiles on the floor!

Noah G: Why is there just a door on the ark? Why does nobody come out of the door and tell us about the Torah? Rabbi Mark: When we open the door on the ark, you’ll see that a person cannot fit in there. Inside is a shelf, and that’s where we keep the Torah. Sal and Leo – who had their B’nei Mitzvah this year – are here to help us open those doors and take out the Torah!

The kids gather ’round, we walk up to the ark, Sal and Leo open the doors, we remove the Torah, pass around the yad (pointer), open up the Torah, look for letters we know, and say the Shehechianu (blessing for reaching a happy occasion). A wonderful visit with the kids!