The Busy Season Never Ends

Even without the Days of Awe, Beacon synagogue has a packed schedule

by Alison Rooney

A spate of new programs and activities, among them a preschool and monthly “soul strolls,” have been folded into Beacon Hebrew Alliance’s already extensive calendar. All of them are related in some way to segregation and inclusion, explains Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek. “We live in a segregated society. BHA is a place where all different parts of the community can intersect,” including different generations and faiths.

BHA includes about 150 families, some of whom moved to the area because of the synagogue. It’s not just families with young children, Spodek says, but also retirees attracted to “the beauty, the arts, access to the city, and now, with the new condos becoming available, it’s a perfect place for them.”

After members expressed interest in a preschool, several took the reins and a half-day program debuted this fall. It serves 10 children (with spots available) and the curriculum, created and taught by Ilana Friedman and Diana Cowdery, emphasizes the outdoors, with garden beds for the children to tend, singing and exploring books.

Preschool teacher Ilana Friedman with students (BHA photo)
Preschool teacher Ilana Friedman with students (BHA photo)

“Children have a natural spiritual awareness that we lose as adults” Spodek says. “Some days after morning prayers people of grandparent age come down and interact with the preschoolers. The Talmud says ‘the world is sustained by the breath of schoolchildren’ and there’s something magical which happens having little kids in the mix.

“Society offers limited opportunities for natural organic interaction. Having a preschool in the same space as where we’re working on police/community relations, counseling and all the other things we do, offers more opportunity for serendipitous encounters.”

BHA Days of Awe

Unless noted, services take place at Beacon Hebrew Alliance, 331 Verplanck Ave.

Sunday, Oct. 2
7 p.m. Erev Rosh Hashanah

Monday, Oct. 3
9 a.m. Rosh Hashanah, Day 1
10 a.m. Family Service
4 p.m. Tashlich (Long Dock Park)

Tuesday, Oct. 4
9 a.m. Rosh Hashanah, Day 2
10 a.m. Family Service

Thursday, Oct. 6
7:30 p.m. Travel to Israel and Palestine Info Session

Saturday, Oct. 8
9:30 a.m. Shabbat Shuva Soul Stroll (Little Stony Point)

For the soul strolls, Spodek and Josh Kaplan, an environmental educator, lead ambles designed for people from all traditions and faiths who are “looking for a richer spiritual experience in the forest,” the rabbi says.  He leads the adults while Kaplan guides the kids, devising activities to help them pay closer attention to what’s around them. “The miracle of the burning bush was not that it was on fire, the miracle was that Moses noticed this,” Spodek observes. “How do you cultivate paying close attention to the world?”

With the adults, stopping points lend themselves to contemplation. “We combine chanting, silence and words. In one exercise we considered a line in liturgy: ‘Who is the person who delights in life? The one who guards his tongue from evil?’ We chanted that and talked to each other about another person for five minutes straight using only the positives — no ‘buts.’  It was very liberating for a lot of people to express … starting from a place of love.”

Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek with artwork which says, twice, "There's nothing other than the divine," from Deuteronomy 4:35 (Photo by A. Rooney)
Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek with artwork which says, twice, “There’s nothing other than the divine,” from Deuteronomy 4:35 (Photo by A. Rooney)

Another stop might involve meditating while perched on an uncomfortable rock. “How do we come to ‘be’ with the things in life that are uncomfortable?” the rabbi asks. “The ability to sit and say ‘this thing is unpleasant’ and then understand, when you have clarity in your soul, you can address it better. These are ways of letting people access spiritual power without tripping over it.”

A recent addition to the BHA schedule are monthly meetings of the Sisterhood for Peace and Justice, an interfaith women’s circle, and a monthly Bina chanting service led by cantor Ellen Gersh. “We want to facilitate people’s spiritual lives and not have them tripping over language,” says Spodek, who notes there is no prayer book and fluency in Hebrew isn’t required.

A House That Gives No Shelter

The month of October brings the start of the busy season in the Jewish calendar, filled with preparations for the High Holy Days and the Beacon Hebrew Alliance’s annual Open to the Sky: Beacon Sukkah Project, which runs from Oct. 16 to 24 at Polhill Park. A sukkah is a rickety house that gives no shelter. It is used for seven days around the harvest and then disassembled, symbolizing the impermanence of everything.

The sukkah to be constructed near the Beacon Visitors’ Center will host a number of free events, including:

A session at noon on Oct. 18 with folk singer and Cold Spring resident Dar Williams on music as a form of social protest.
A reading at 4 p.m. on Oct. 19 by Sabecha Rehman, whose memoir, Threading My Prayer Rug, tells of her Muslim upbringing in Pakistan and her move to America.

A conversation at 4 p.m. on Oct. 20 with Beacon Mayor Randy Casale and Chief of Police Douglas Solomon about local policing.

A round of Speed Neighboring at 3 p.m. on Oct. 23, in which people talk to each other for a few minutes before rotating.

On the horizon is a spring trip to Israel and Palestine, which Spodek sees as “an opportunity for people to get behind the scenes by avoiding the propaganda. There are no bad guys; it’s more nuanced. We will have an Israeli guide and a Palestinian guide, understanding that there are two competing narratives. As a core principle you don’t have to abandon what you think and believe to understand the other point of view.” An informational meeting about the trip will take place Oct. 6.

“A through thread to all of our programs is encountering the divine through human experience,” Spodak says. “People spend a lot of time deciding whether or not they believe the stories and, by doing so, embezzle their own spiritual richness. We rob ourselves of experiencing the divine; the divine isn’t just found in people who look or think like you. It’s found in every tree, every rock. How do we cultivate our ability to see that?”

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