At Congregation Beth Israel, WRJ/Beth Israel Sisterhood’s mission is to bring women together to support and benefit Congregation Beth Israel and the community by providing opportunities for friendship, service, spiritual growth, and learning.
Social Action – Portland Refugee Support
Our social action continues in our support of the Portland Refugee Sustenance Group (PRSG) in its work for refugees. The organization empowers refugees through social support and education and helps them navigate a path to successful life in the US.
Did you know that PRSG assists about 200 families from 12 counties here in Portland? They do this by providing refugees with a variety of necessary products, gift cards and rides to assist in the families’ shopping.
For your support, you can donate strollers, diapers (all sizes) & wipes, feminine hygiene products, shampoo, conditioner, body wash and toys for kids. You can drop off items or funds at the Schnitzer Family Center, Monday-Friday between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM, or at the Sherman Education Center on Sundays during Religious School. Bring donations to Mitzvah Day too.
In addition to donations, please consider helping out with this social action work on Mitzvah day. On Mitzvah Day, May 21, we need ages 20+ with drivers’ licenses and vehicles to pick up refugee families and transport them to thrift stores and parks. If you can help with this, please sign up for CBI Mitzvah Day here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/20f094aafaa5-mitzvah7
Read more at or contact Reilly, our Social Action Chair, with questions.
WRJ/Beth Israel Sisterhood Susan Berniker to be Honored with Song of Miriam Award
Susan Berniker is being honored this year as the Song of Miriam honoree for WRJ/Beth Israel Sisterhood. Susan is the president of WRJ/BIS and has led the social action efforts for the Sisterhood for 5 years, collaborating with CBI Social Action and WRJ Pacific District and North America.
Through Susan’s efforts, CBI Sisterhood now partners with PERIOD, and Dignity Grows to address the issue of period poverty and provides period products to the Somali American Council of Oregon.
Susan will be honored at the Song of Miriam awards brunch on June 4 at 10:00 am at the MJCC. Reserve your spot by May 22.
WRJ/PD’s 2023 KAVOD AWARD FOR PROGRAMS:
Wine, Women and Words: A Special Membership Event
The Beth Israel Sisterhood’s membership event won the Kavod Award this year for the Wine Women and Words program. This is a program for small group gatherings, at board member homes. This event was chosen because it was an innovative and effective approach to have intimate discussions with new and non-members while meeting the challenge of the pandemic.
This approach to continued outreach enabled small groups to talk about specific topics as well as for the board to hear about today’s challenges facing women in our community. By hearing these challenges, Sisterhood can consider new programs to provide.
Sisterhood Board Meetings
Thursday, June 8
6:00 PM (Social Hour), 6:30 PM (Meeting)
Anyone is welcome to Join us for our monthly board meetings and quarterly gatherings. These are held on the second Thursdays and every other month is on zoom. You can always find the zoom links at www.bethisrael-pdx.org/joinus.
Mark your calendars for March 9 (on zoom), April 13, May 11, and June 8. When there are more details or changes to the schedule, we will alert everyone through email and the newsletters
Want to be up-to-the-minute with all things Sisterhood? Read on, or click one of the buttons below.
Susan Berniker – President
Ellen Zellinger – Vice President & Membership Co-Chair
Shoshanna Lansberg – Immediate Past President & Religious Programming
Michael Richman – Corresponding Secretary
Rita Effros – Recording Secretary
Rachel Segal – Treasurer
Vacant Vacant – Parliamentarian
Rose Marshall – Communications
Ellen Bick – Emerita
Kathleen Doctor – Emerita
Melissa Himmelman – Fundraising Co-chair
Michelle Shari Kruss – Fundraising Co-chair
Bonnie Barg – Gift Shop
Rhonda Daniels – Membership Co-Chair
Karen Stavis – Programming Co-chair
Nadine Block – Programming Co-chair
Debbie Braymer – Volunteer Coordinator
Virginia Gitter – College Outreach Co-chair
Leslie Berman – College Outreach Co-chair
Judy Stone – Gift Shop Treasurer
Cantor Ida Rae Cahana – Clergy Liaison
Current open positions include Community Seder and Rosh Hashanah Reception Chairs.
President’s Message | February 2023
As we head into the ninth month of this program year, I’m grateful that the coronavirus hasn’t upset our plans to date. Both the CBI calendar and the sisterhood calendar are chock-full of activities.
At this time of year, I explain to my Sunday School students the teaching of our sages that “When Adar is near, joy is here.” I can’t think of a better way to experience delight than by attending all the upcoming synagogue and Sisterhood events in March.
I hope to see you Schpielin’ In the Rain for Purim, or at convention, or…
Wishing you a deep sense of joy—simcha—as the coming days grow lighter and longer.
Susan Berniker, President, 2022-2024
This week we have a double parsha, B’har (On Mount Sinai)-and B’chuktai (My Laws). Throughout Leviticus God issues lots of laws, rules and instructions to the Israelites. Why? The Israelites made some bad decisions in the previous chapter and now G-d is prescribing explicit behavior expectations.
At the beginning of this portion, God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites that in every seventh year, the land shall observe a Sabbath of complete rest: Fields should not be sown and vines should not be pruned.
This resonated with me because one of my Pacific District Action and Advocacy teammates, dedicated to fighting the climate crisis, explained this concept last year—as 2021-2022 was a Shmita year. Everyone on our zoom call seemed to know what Shmita meant, but I had to Google the word during the conversation and discovered that it means the seventh year—the year that farmers give the land a rest, and rest themselves as well.
Throughout 2021-2022 there was lots of Shmita programming in Jewish communities worldwide presented by organizations like The Shmita Project—whose purpose is to invite people into community to think creatively about bringing Shmita values to life in homes, communities, and the wider world.
There are endless things to talk about in just this tiny part of the parsha. One idea to note is the beauty that our Shabbat is every seven days and the parallel that the earth’s Shabbat is every seven years. I didn’t put that together until reading this Torah passage.
Another theme in this passage is that the land belongs to God and we must take care of it. In addition to the concept of Shmita, G-d gives instructions for the Jubilee year which occurs after seven cycles of Sabbatical years—after forty-nine years. A jubilee year is to be celebrated when all the land that had been sold during that time should be returned to its original owners. From this, we learn that land cannot be sold permanently. Israelites were just tenants on God’s land, as we are today.
Clearly, B’har is a springboard for discussion on how to care for our environment. Given that the URJ is initiating a new campaign focusing on Global Warming, I imagine that we’ll have opportunities to delve into this concept more deeply as a congregation.
I end this d’var borrowing an idea I read in a Torah commentary on B’har. The conclusion was an appeal for everyone to eat less meat and suggested adding a no meat meal in your weekly repertoire. The author then provided a meatless recipe to replace a meat dish. Similarly, I close this d’var with a request for you to email me a favorite meatless recipe to share. I’ll gather and post them in the next WRJ/Beth Israel newsletter. May we be inspired to take steps together to be better stewards of the earth for our children and future generations.
Counting the Omer
Every year at this time, we relive the epic story of Passover. Retelling the Israelites’ journey from a narrow place of slavery, to freedom, we experience the continued relevancy of the Exodus story. The Exodus narrative provides a guiding metaphor for each of us to unbind ourselves, get unstuck, perhaps join hands and move. The Counting of the Omer leads us through this process.
What does it mean to Count the Omer?
For seven weeks of seven days, we count from the second night of Passover until our arrival at Sinai. Originally, the counting was rooted in the spring harvest, the counting of the grain. Now it is known as a season of soul searching. During each week of counting, we move – from waking up, to setting out, to entering the wilderness, to being in the unknown, to finding our way, to becoming our vision, and finally, to arriving.
How will we move through the process this year? How can we recognize our shackles, cry out for change, take the risk to wander from our known places into the unknown wilderness, and arrive at our own promised land?
What will be our journey? Will it be a personal one, or one focused on social injustices that continue to plague the world? Will it be a journey we choose, or one that has been chosen for us? Will the journey be welcome, or unwelcome? Every time we make a transition from the known to the unknown, the possibility of transformation is there. During the first week of counting, we woke up. We situated ourselves in the present moment.
“Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.” Antonio Machado.
During the second week of counting, which begins tonight, we set out. Lech Lecha, -go forth or go to yourself. Acknowledge the courage we must gather to move forward.
What have you woken up to in the past year? In what ways are you being called to journey forth right now? What small step might you take today to begin?
Today is 9 days, which is one week and two days of the Omer.
SHEMINI; Leviticus 9:1-11:47
Shemini means Eighth- the day after the 7-day ordination ceremony of the priests
There are two main themes of this parsha:
(1) Just before the priests are to be installed, Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu offer “strange fire” before God and die in the process.
(2) Laws of Kashrut
Rabbi Shefa Gold: On the face of it, it looks like they did something very wrong and were punished for it, thereby leaving us with a stern warning: You must play by the rules… or else! The text states that they, “offered strange fire which God had not commanded them. And fire came forth from God and consumed them and they died before God.” (Leviticus 10:1-2).But perhaps Nadav and Avihu did not do anything wrong, but instead did something extraordinarily right. Perhaps death was not a punishment, but instead a passionate Divine embrace of beloveds.
Rabbi Gold: “I view this story as a blessing; I look for the place within me that is willing to offer up everything, directly from the impulse of the heart, without being asked, without conforming to what is deemed normal”.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: What did Nadav and Avihu do wrong? After all, Moshe had also acted spontaneously when he broke the tablets after the sin of the Golden Calf. But what made Nadav and Avihu deserve so severe a punishment? The difference was that Moshe was a Prophet. Prophets sometimes act spontaneously, because they both inhabit the world of time.
The priestly vocation was to remind the people that there are limits/boundaries. There is an order to the universe and we must respect it. Spontaneity has no place in the life of the Priest or the service of the Sanctuary. That is what Nadav and Avihu , who were priests, failed to honor.
The classic example of the important of limits is the environment. As Jared Diamond has documented in his books, Guns, Germs and Steel, and Collapse, almost wherever human beings have set foot, they have left a trail of destruction in their wake. They have farmed lands to exhaustion and hunted animals to extinction. They have done so because they have not had, embedded in their minds and habits, the notion of limits. Hence the concept, key to environmental ethics, of sustainability, meaning limiting your exploitation of the Earth’s resources to the point where they can renew themselves. A failure to observe those limits causes human beings to be exiled from their own garden of Eden.
Rachel Adler also reminds us that the acts of eating also have boundaries.
Leviticus asks us to practice justice, especially in our acts of eating. In our dietary code, the body of the worshiper is made analogous to the sanctuary.
Our Challenge: In parshat Shemini, the story of Nadav and Avihu, which is about ecstasy, wild abandon, and supreme intoxication contrasts with the description of the path of discernment, responsibility and sobriety. Our spiritual challenge is to embrace the wisdom of both these paths.
D’Var Torah, January 12
Sh’mot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)
This is a very well-known section of the Torah, as we tell this story every year on Pesach. In this parshah, the new king of Egypt, threatened by the growing numbers of Israelites, forces them into slavery and orders newborn males to be killed; the Pharoah’s daughter discovers Moses in a basket in the Nile and raises him; Moses flees from Egypt, but is then summoned by God to free the Israelites from Egypt; and finally a reluctant Moses assembles the elders of the Israelites, tells them what God instructed him, and then confronts Pharoah.
I was struck by the coinciding of this Torah portion with our celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend.
Moses was a reluctant leader. He essentially says to God, “are you sure I’m the guy for this job?” He points out to God that he has a speech impediment, he worries he will not be able to convince the Israelites to unite behind him, and he implores God to find someone else. I think many of us can relate to how Moses felt. It is frightening to step forward for weighty tasks with such consequences. But his moral compass was powerful, compelling him to correct wrong in the face of risk.
Moses was also a witness. He saw firsthand the suffering of the Israelites and decided that something had to be done. One commentary on this parshah said “we have to get proximate to the injustices we are trying to correct”. Dr. King Jr. and other civil rights leaders spoke loudly and repeatedly about the injustices and compelled society to not only see what was happening around them but to take action. Dr. King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
This Torah portion is a good reminder to all of us, especially as we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend, of what is at the heart of reform Judaism – the articulation of social injustices and the mitzvot of acting to address those injustices.
Sisterhood Game Night
In May, we held our final quarterly gathering of the year with a spirited WRJ/Beth Israel game night.
Following announcements and introductions, lattendees learned and played a few different games (including Code Names, Anomia, and others), and enjoyed socializing and snacks.
Sisterhood Shabbat Service
In February, we held our annual Sisterhood Shabbat Service conducted by Cantor Cahana and Rabbi Cahana with many women leading the service.
Thanks to Shoshanna Lansberg for organizing the event.
Discussion with Author Maggie Anton
In March we were pleased to have Sisterhood of Congregation Kol Ami of Vancouver Washington join us in a virtual book discussion on The Choice: A Novel of Love, Faith, and the Talmud. The author, Maggie Anton talked about how she wrote the book and the background of the story. There was lots of great discussion.
Wine, Women and Words
In March, a membership outreach event was held to acquaint new women to each other and to board members. Thanks to Ellen Zellinger and Rhonda Daniels for the outreach and to Ellen for hosting at her home.
WRJ Pacific District Convention
Also in March, the Pacific District of WRJ held its 56th Convention in Bellevue Washington. With the short drive from Portland, quite a few women from CBI were able to attend in person, including newbies! We can be very proud of the leadership involvement in WRJ that Ellen Bick, Rhonda Daniels, Debbie Braymer, Susan Berniker and and others have provided.
Attendees were able to meet new people, take leadership and social justice workshops, hear about others’ ideas and successes, learn more about the YES fund and just had fun together.