Erev Rosh Hashanah Sermon: Embracing Anger

We arose early in the morning.  My father in front riding his donkey and I was right behind him, next to the servants who were carrying the wood for the offering. We hadn’t made it even a few hours when my father instructed us to stop.  From here, the servants would stay back with the donkey, my father carrying the knife, and me, carrying the wood and stonefire, and the two of us ascended together.   It was heavy and it was hot outside.  I don’t usually carry the wood.  I was tired, confused, concerned.  We didn’t even tell mother we were leaving.  Something was not right.  I turned to my father, saying, “father, here are the firestone and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”  “God will see to the sheep for the burnt offering, my son.”  God will see to the offering??  My son?  What is going on here…. Is it me?  Panic set in.  I froze… unable to think or speak… I have no memory of what happened next… did we continue to talk, or did we proceed in silence?  Did he force me to lie down on the altar, tying me down… or did I willingly comply?  I’ll never know.  The next memory I have is of my father standing above me, his knife above my face, but his gaze off to the side.  God provided for the sacrifice and it was not me.  And now, all these years later, I still wake up every night in a sweaty panic… with the image of my father and his knife hovering above me… we haven’t spoken since it happened.  How could we.  He may have proven his loyalty to God but he did so at the cost of his relationship with me, his son, his favorite son, the son he loved. Every time I think about him my blood boils over in anger.  How could he do this to me!  And how could he do this to my mother! oh, mother…. I’ll never forgive him.

—–

I awoke in a haste… everything was off, it was too bright, the walls around me were spinning… and all the sudden, out of nowhere, someone, something, appeared… was I having a vision… or a dream, more like a nightmare..  “Did you hear what happened in the world, Sarah? Abraham took Isaac, his son, and slaughtered him, offering him up on the altar as a sacrifice.”  (shofar sounds) He what? Did I hear that right?  I’m shaking. This can’t be real.  My son, our son… the son we waited for, prayed for, my son, my only son, the son I loved. (shofar sounds again)  What was he thinking – did you put him up to this?  Playing games with my husband in your wars with our God.  Leave us alone!  You know he’ll do anything God says.  He probably didn’t even hesitate… eager to show his devotion.  How could you do this, how could God allow it…  and don’t give me that grin – yes, I’m mad, I’m more than mad, I’m furious.  I’ll never forgive him until the day I…  (shofar sounds) 

—–

This story, the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac, is the story our rabbis have chosen as our Rosh Hashanah Torah Reading for tomorrow morning..  On this birthday of the world, this celebration of creation, we will read one of the most shocking, horrifying, and infuriating stories in the entire Torah.  Though often presented as a story of unwavering faith, it is in fact a story of intimidation and abuse at best, attempted child murder at worst.  A story that lauds the abuser, and silences the victims.

Abraham and Isaac never speak again after this incident. And we learn that Sarah, who is not even referenced in the story,  dies in the very next Torah portion without ever hearing her voice.   And though numerous commentators address the impact the story might have had on Isaac and Sarah, they focus primarily on fear, pain, and loss.  This story, a story that by all rational accounts, should have elicited the emotion of rage in those who were the victims of  Abraham’s actions, only shares their silence, fear, submission, and death.

So why do we read this story on Rosh Hashanah?  Some say that we read it to consider the ways in which God tests our own faith today, and how we might, in our own way, emulate the faith that Abraham exhibited.

I couldn’t disagree more and still, I wouldn’t trade this reading for any other.   And the reason is because on this most sacred day, when we are turning inward and considering our place in the world… it is on this day that we are encouraged to take stock… to consider what is going well, what is not, and what could be different. In order to do this we must allow ourselves to feel anger, and not only feel it, but lean into it in order to reimagine a different reality..  And there is perhaps no better story to elicit the emotion of anger than the story of the binding of Isaac.

In her book, Good and Mad, Rebecca Traister explores the fact that over and again, we find ourselves in situations where the most appropriate response to what is happening around us is anger, and yet, no anger is visibly expressed. Since the time of the biblical period, we have been taught to have a pleasant countenance, to withhold, suppress, or repurpose our anger. We quickly learn that acting or appearing angry can be detrimental toward the way others see and accept us. It can cost us promotions, set us as outcasts in social circles, and strain our family relationships.  This is particularly true for girls and women who are socialized from an early age to smile and laugh when someone says or does something sexist.  We are socialized to be subservient to boys and men, to be peacekeepers, and caregivers. These techniques are often employed to protect ourselves from the very real threat of harm and retaliation. 

As Soraya Chemaly explains in her book Rage Becomes Her, research shows that when women express anger, men are most likely to respond with even greater anger but when men express anger, women are most likely to respond with fear.   Fear of being ridiculed, fired, or outcast… but also the fear of being physically attacked, sexually assaulted, raped, or murdered.

Men, and more specifically white men, are regularly celebrated and rewarded for expressions of righteous anger in the face of injustice, while women, and especially women of color, are demonized and dismissed as shrill, crazy, or hysterical for an even slight change in tone or expression. This truth plays out every day in the classroom, the workplace, and the political stage.  I am acutely aware that my ability to even name this injustice without fear of being dismissed as hysterical myself  is itself a product of the privilege I hold as a white woman in a position of power.  And it is in part the knowledge of this privilege that inspires me to speak out with, and step aside for, those who are in more vulnerable positions than I am, and who have a lot more to be personally angry about than I do.

Anger, on its own, is not an unhealthy emotion that needs to be suppressed.  It is quite the opposite. As both Rebecca Traister and Soraya Chemaly explain, anger is a forward looking and optimistic emotion.

It is a feeling we have when we know something we are experiencing should and can be different.  Anger, when understood and expressed effectively, leads toward positive change…  it is the impetitus that encourages us to speak out and act in the face of injustice. 

Conversely, for both men and women, the suppression of anger can be personally harmful to our emotional and physical state.  It can also be harmful to our society and our world as the suppression of anger means that we are accepting defeat, admitting that nothing can be done to make things better for us, our neighbors, and our earth.  Soraya Chemaly notes that the inability to articulate anger is recognized as a significant component of anxiety and depression. She says that while “obviously anger will not eliminate pain, illness, discrimination, or death, research has shown that people who articulate their emotions and in a way that makes meaning out of strong negative feelings of anger and resentment are better able to adjust to pain.”

This does not mean that we should lash out in physical and verbal attacks… for those expressions often create even more harm and destruction. Instead of lashing out, what we can do, is explore what a healthy expression of anger might look like.

To notice and accept the emotions we are feeling, consider how things might be different, and then use that burning fire inside us to work toward creating the change we want to see in the world.

This past year of 5779 has been one of deep pain, carelessness, neglect, targeted harassment, and acts of hatred.  It has been a year where I have regularly woken up feeling very angry about something going on in the world.  The list of egregious and painful acts occurring all around us, against us, against our loved ones, and strangers in our midst, is too long to recount. And just because we have been here before, just because history has certainly seen worse, is not an excuse for ignoring inappropriate behavior. Instead, the gross volume of injustice in the world can serve as a wake up call… a paralyzing blast of the shofar to shake us out of complacency and fear and toward restoration and transformative action.

We have so many choices for how to respond to the anger we feel inside. In Torah, we learn that when God felt angry, God’s nostrils flared.  Today, we sometimes do the same.  We certainly experience anger physically, whether it be with flared nostrils, a flaming red face, racing heart, tense muscles, or pit in our stomach.  We also respond to anger through suppression, we lash out, we laugh it off, we pretend we didn’t hear or didn’t see, we get sad and scared, we cry, and sometimes we even die. But there are also other things we can do. We can talk about our anger, we can write, sing, hug, exercise, help others, dream, and create.  Embracing anger doesn’t mean we can’t have fun, experience joy, and find inner peace.  It means we want to have more of those things for ourselves and for others and we will work to overcome stumbling blocks that stand in our way.

So as we prepare ourselves to read one of the most infuriating stories in our Torah tomorrow morning, we must consider what we will do with that anger.  In the case of our Torah reading, I hope we will allow ourselves to be angry at Abraham or God.  We must continue to add our voices as the next link in a sacred chain of tradition that dates all the way back to our biblical ancestors. To reclaim the stories of those who have been silenced and to retell their stories, in all their pain and all their beauty.  And as we do so, I hope we will also open ourselves up to that which makes us angry in our own lives, and in the world around us, and commit to noticing and expressing that anger in a way that makes the world a better place.….  Y’hiyu l’ratzon…  May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our heart be acceptable to you, oh God and may we all, one day, be inspired to achieve that which we know can be different in order in order to join together with You in the pursuit of peace, for us, for all Israel, and all humanity.  Amen.

Response to Hate Speech

Jewish tradition takes the spoken and the written word very seriously, so much so that there are entire law codes dedicated to the concepts of slander and tale-bearing (lashon harah and rechilut). In one passage of the Talmud, we learn that slander is more dangerous to humanity than individual acts of idolatry, adultery, and murder. The commentary notes that it is slander, tale-bearing, and other forms of hate speech that bring humans to quarrel and which very often lead to bloodshed. 

These texts are warning us about the power of words. They are reminding us that the promotion of hate speech can have grave effects, and we must not only be careful about the way we speak as individuals but also be alert and responsive to the words of others. As the 13th century commentator Chizkuni taught, “Do not spread evil tales that have come to your attention, but rather be the one where this practice stops from gaining further ground.”

We are seeing a new level of slander and tale-bearing gaining ground in our country and around the world. This week, the Jewish community has been a target of such hate speech, and we are starting to see that these words are, like our rabbis warned, bringing our community to quarrel. They are also producing a warranted fear that the words could lead to more violence. Unfortunately, the Jewish community has been here before. We have seen and experienced the worst of humanity. We have survived and have resolved that the spread of hatred against the Jewish community, and against all people, will stop with us. Let us be the ones to stop this speech from gaining ground and instead turn to one another in tolerance, acceptance, and love.

Ushers Wanted for High Holidays & Shabbat

By Steve Barberio, Executive Director


Serving as an usher or greeter at Bet Shalom is one of the most rewarding volunteer activities that a congregant can undertake during the year. Whether it’s a Shabbat service on Friday night or in  the morning on Saturday when a young person becomes a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, our ushers play a crucial role in helping members and guests feel comfortable when they arrive and as they spend time in services.

We are also starting to put together our schedule for ushers during the High Holidays. Very soon, everyone should receive the annual High Holiday letter from Rabbi Locketz, which will include the full schedule of services and other activities. Virtually all of those activities require ushers to help manage the High Holidays at Bet Shalom.  Up to 1,000 people attend services and ushers play a very important role in making the services run smoothly.

Lastly, we often need ushers for other services and activities throughout the year. For example, when we have a Shiva service or festival service, ushers are needed to pass out prayer books to those attending. Again, this is an important role that our members play in helping people feel welcome and comfortable at Bet Shalom.

If you’d like to volunteer as an usher this year at Shabbat services, during the High Holidays, or during other services throughout the year, please let us know. Amy Yoelin, our Membership and Communications Coordinator, is now scheduling volunteers for the year and she can help you find the right fit. You can call her at 952-933-8525 or email her at amy.yoelin@betshalom.org to sign up to be an usher.  

Thank you to all of our ushers who have volunteered in the past; we hope you’ll sign up again this coming year.

Year End Review – Operations

By Stephen Barberio, Executive Director


As the Bet Shalom fiscal year draws to a close, I would like to highlight three significant developments that have taken place in the past year. This marks the end of my first full fiscal year as Executive Director, and I am proud of how far we’ve come in such a relatively short period of time.

First, it’s important to acknowledge that the process of change is often bumpy and difficult. Although a change itself may be for the best, transitions are sometimes difficult for those managing them and those on the receiving end. We made some big changes this year and I’m sincerely grateful to our clergy and the Board for their leadership and guidance as we’ve taken steps to strengthen how the synagogue functions on behalf of the congregation. Outlined below are three areas where significant change has taken place this year, followed by a section for “what’s next” at Bet Shalom in 2019/2020.

Membership Dues

Hopefully, everyone is now aware that we made a shift in how the synagogue relates to its members through financial commitments. Transitioning from a health-club type of dues model to a philanthropic approach has assigned our members the responsibility of determining the amount they’ll pledge each year. Considering their own circumstances, the $3,000+ per household cost to run the synagogue, and the fact that some members can pay more than others, we now ask congregants to state their pledge before the start of the fiscal year. If you haven’t made your pledge, please do so today by clicking HERE.

Staffing Structure

It took us the entire year to pull together our entire team, but we now have an outstanding group of professionals running the day-to-day operations of the synagogue. Over the course of the year, we experimented with different half-time and full-time positions, as a way to run the synagogue. With a full team of professionals, we now have the capacity to fully serve the wide range of needs of the congregation. As the new year unfolds, please watch for our communications to improve, our new Development Director to connect with our membership in meaningful ways, and for the delivery of our programs and services to continue to improve.

Planning Ahead

During the past six weeks, the staff has focused on planning the upcoming school year in a way that fully considers all of the details required to pull off successful programming. Taking away nothing from our successes in the past, we have attempted to move up our planning process by six to 12 months, clarifying roles and responsibilities among everyone involved.

What’s Next

Last fall, the Board of Trustees adopted four strategic themes for Bet Shalom: Building Sacred Community (Kehilah Kedosha); Applying Study to Our Lives (Talmud Torah); Nurturing Our Souls (Tikkun HaNefesh); and Repairing the World (Tikkun Olam). These themes are now guiding the Board, senior staff, and our committees to do the work of the synagogue. As the coming year unfolds, watch for greater emphasis to be placed on deeper member engagement, how we do so through these strategic themes, and a broader commitment to recruitment of and involvement with younger members of our congregation.

Please join us this Friday at 5:00 PM in the social hall for our annual congregational meeting, at which time our Board President, Julie Sprau, will update the membership on these and other matters of interest. Eric Bressler, President of the Bet Shalom Endowment, will also provide an update on the progress of the endowment this year. 

S’mores, Songs, and Sun: Camp Season is Coming

By Rabbi Crimmings


Every summer, Rabbi Locketz, Rabbi Cohen, and I each spend two weeks serving on faculty at our Reform movement’s regional Jewish overnight camp, OSRUI, in Oconomowoc, Wisc. During our two weeks, we work with counselors to prepare for services and integrate Hebrew- and Judaic-themed programming into camp culture… but that is not all we do. We also spend time informally with our Bet Shalom campers and dive into camp life, whether that means eating s’mores around the campfire, or painting toe-nails before Shabbat! Every moment is a sacred opportunity to connect, teach, engage, and inspire.

This summer, close to 100 Bet Shalom young people will be heading off to Jewish summer camps, including OSRUI, Herzl, TEKO, Olami, Butwin, and Interlaken. The experiences our children will have at all these amazing camps have the potential to transform the way they understand, live, and express their Jewish identity. If your family is not yet participating at OSRUI, but is considering it in future summers, OSRUI is opening its doors almost every day this summer for interested families to come see the magic at camp. Please contact Rabbi Locketz or me to discuss if you would like to set up a visit.  

As they are packing their bags and preparing for a summer of fun, we are also preparing to send them off with blessings for a summer of inspiration, meaning, joy, and growth. Please join us on Friday, June 14, for a special camp treat during the kabbalat panim at 5:30 PM followed by services at 6:00 PM, where we will invite all our campers to come up for a blessing.

Here’s to You: Volunteer Appreciation Shabbat on May 3

By Steve Barberio


A few weeks ago, I shared with the congregation our increasing focus on the importance of volunteers as key contributors to the health and vitality of Bet Shalom. There are many who help out as ushers, landscapers, committee members, kitchen helpers, and in so many other ways who deserve to be recognized for their contributions.

At our Kabbalat Shabbat service on Friday, May 3, we will recognize the many ways our members have contributed to programs and activities at Bet shalom. We’ll begin the evening with a Kabbalat Panim at 5:30, followed by the evening service, and then a light dinner afterward in the social hall. If you contributed your time as a volunteer in the past year, please join us.

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of areas people volunteered in the past year, but if you engaged in any of these activities, please join us:

  • -Serving on the Board or on a committee
  • -Ushering during Shabbat or on High Holy Days
  • -Landscaping
  • -Helping out at the fall block party
  • -Working the concession stand at a Minnesota Twins game
  • -Serving snack at Religious School
  • -Helping out teachers and staff at Relgious School
  • -Giving time and expertise in support of Bet Shalom Yeladim
  • -Helping organize the storage room and other spaces at the synagogue
  • -Donating time in the kitchen as a helper or cook
  • -Doing office work in support of the administration
  • -Volunteering at a fundraiser or other event

It’s entirely possible that I’ve missed at least one area that people have volunteered, but on behalf of the Board of Trustees and the staff, we are so grateful for the contributions being made by our members. So join us on Shabbat on May 3 to be recognized for your generosity.

Please RSVP by April 30 if you plan to join us after services for dinner by clicking HERE.