On Keeping the Tent Open on All Sides

Handing out note cards for reflection at conferenceRabbi Barbara’s article on the Open Hillel Conference she attended in October was published today in The Charlotte Observer on the editorial page.

We hope to see many of you at our first program on Israel with Dr. Kathryn Johnson at Panera Bread tomorrow night!

WOW! Front-Page Story on TOO Scheduled for Charlotte Observer’s Religion Section

This year, Temple Or Olam will be featured in The Charlotte Observer’s coverage of High Holy Days.  It looks like the story will appear on tomorrow’s front-page in the Religion section, so keep your eyes peeled and save your copy!

In the meantime, a version of the story has appeared on-line.  Click…

here New beginnings as Jews usher in the High Holy Days

And don’t forget that we have begun posting stories on our website.  You’ll find all the links in the “TOO in the Press” button under “About.”

Shabbat Shalom, everyone.  We hope to see many of you at S’lichot services this Sunday!

August 2013 shmoozeletter

The August 2013 Shmoozeletter of Temple Or Olam is published – please click here to access it.  Points of interest:

  • 10-year Anniversary Kick-off – Dinner, Kabbalat Shabbat Service, and Dessert (August 16, starts at 6:30)
  • theme for the upcoming High Holy Days: the number seven
  • new ark and ner tamid ordered
  • Elul starts August 7
  • annual meeting report / new officers and committees
  • Ruth G. Kingberg Children’s Education Fund launched
  • invitation to submit materials for our own ‘Book of Ruth’
  • TOO Religious School partners with Institute for Southern Jewish Life; workshop Aug. 24
  • new sign-up sheet for setup/breakdown/oneg
  • membership drive
  • Board of Directors news, July 28
  • Sukkot arrangements for September 22
  • Dinner, Dancing, & Dessert arrangements for February 8
  • yard sale – call for sellable items
  • August calendar of Temple Or Olam
  • birthdays, yahrzeits, donations

May 2013 Shmoozeletter

The May 2013 Shmoozeletter is available on line (please click here).  Among the highlights:

  • Services May 04 and 17, Hebrew School Party May 12, Shavuot Picnic May 19
  • Rabbi Thiede: What is sacred to you in your Jewish community?
  • Our congregation turns 10: Interesting things to know about us…
  • Communication within the congregation and with the rabbi
  • Men for Change 2013: Call for donations
  • Recipe: Robbin Smith’s Broiled Tilapia Parmesan (you have got to try this)
  • The letter dalet
  • Annual Meeting June 09
  • Birthdays and yahrzeits, donations received, and our Kvell Korner

February 2013 Shmoozeletter

The February 2013 shmoozeletter is on line here.  Points of interest include:

  • February 15 service at 7:00 p.m.
  • February 24: Purim
  • Rabbi Dr. Barbara Thiede reflects on Purim
  • Charlotte Miller reports on Dancing & Dessert
  • New column: ‘Geh Gezunt’ – fun, recipes, fellowship
  • shofar for sale
  • New column: ‘Know your Aleph-Bet’
  • New members
  • Thank you to Ken Klawans
  • February birthdays

Rosalie’s Shawl

I was given a precious gift last fall. It was a circular piece of black lace.

“My grandma wore it to synagogue,” explained Ruth Kingberg.

Ruth Kingberg was born in Germany in the 1920’s. Her family had lived in the German village of Göppingen for many generations.

Her grandmother, Rosalie Dörzback, had worn the black shawl to services at the same synagogue Ruth went to as a child.

The shawl dated back to the second half of the nineteenth century, to a life and a culture, and a Jewish community that was utterly destroyed by the rise to power of Adolf Hitler in the 1930’s. Ruth had kept her grandmother’s shawl carefully folded and wrapped in tissue paper and plastic for many years.

She wanted me to make myself a dress, she explained. She hoped that I could use the shawl as part of that dress, and wear what I made to the party my congregation, Temple Or Olam, had planned to celebrate my ordination as rabbi.

I went to the fabric store, bought a pattern and a brilliant turquoise fabric to lay underneath the black lace. Then I unwrapped and spread out the lace.

But before I could lay out the dress pattern, I noticed the holes.  Here and there the thin threads had broken and frayed.

I called Ruth. I explained.

She was heartbroken. “I wouldn’t have given it to you if I’d known,” she said.

“Ruth,” I said, “Do not worry.”

I knew what I needed to do as soon as I’d seen the holes in the lace.

Ruth’s family made it out of Germany at great risk and terrible loss. Ruth has a perfume bottle given to her by a childhood friend who was deported east. Her beloved friend did not survive the Holocaust. Neither did most of the other children of her little school. Ruth still has a picture of herself with those children, aged six to thirteen. Most were murdered in the gas chambers.

The black lace she gave me had survived, but the holes in the lace spoke of all that had not.

I went back to the store. I came home and laid the fabric over a silver gray shawl that glimmered softly underneath the curlicues, the rich black flowers unfolding across the woven threads.

I left one hole in the lace. You will not see it unless I point it out. But it is there, to remind me.

A small piece of lace was left to sew onto a kippah, a little head covering many Jews wear  during prayer.

The night of the celebration, I set the kippah on my head. I drew the silver-grey shawl over my shoulders. The black lace covers each end, swirling across the fabric.

Rosalie’s shawl is still worn over the shoulders of a Jewish woman. With it, I carry the knowledge of German Jews who once lived lives of hope and promise.

Her prayer shawl sits lightly on my shoulders, though it has taken such a different form. Rosalie’s memory blesses my own efforts to continue to build a Jewish congregation where there once was none, to nurture Jewish life here in Cabarrus County and its environs.  Her granddaughter is a founding member of Temple Or Olam.

May Rosalie’s memory be for a blessing. May Ruth’s gift be one I hand on someday to a Jewish woman of a generation perhaps yet to be born. May she remember, too, and resolve to hope.

[This piece was printed in the Neighbors section of the Charlotte Observer on May 8, 2011]

Member Spotlight: Ruth Kingberg

mama ruth

Photo by Angela Hodges

We often hear about what a congregation is doing or how they are celebrating, but it is, after all, the people who make the congregation what it is.  To this end, we spend our column inches this month profiling the beloved matriarch of our temple, Ruth Kingberg.

Ruth is 86 years old.  She narrowly escaped the Holocaust by leaving Germany on one of the last Kindertransport, a program which helped approximately 10,000 children to leave Germany for the United Kingdom in the months just prior to the outbreak of WWII.  Ruth lived in England during the war and eventually made it to America.  She has lived in North Carolina for the past 28 years.

Ruth is one of the founders of Temple Or Olam.  She is the eldest member of our congregation, our matriarch, and for many years she has lovingly taken on the joyful task of welcoming new members into our congregation.  This tiny little woman not only welcomes new members, but takes their hands afterward and leads them in a dance of celebration.

On Friday nights, Ruth takes the congregation’s children to light the Shabbat candles and not only leads them in prayer but offers each child a blessing and a hug.  She is, in fact, so beloved that college students have been known to rush up to the candles in order to get their own hug and their own blessing.  At Temple Or Olam, we know that the children who are now nine, ten, and eleven years old will grow up with the memory of being blessed at every Shabbat service by Ruth Kingberg.  We can only hope that for these children, the tradition of being blessed on Shabbat will carry on and manifest itself in beautiful ways in their own Jewish lives.

It is Ruth Kingberg who covered our leyning table with blue velvet and gold trim, the leyning table that her 86 year old husband–also a Holocaust survivor–built for the congregation.  It’s Ruth who makes sure that every oneg is a healthy oneg, that there are always wholesome desserts on the table and gluten-free latkes at Hanukkah.  It’s Ruth who reminds us to lift weights like she does every morning, and who brings fruits and vegetables from the Kingberg’s own garden to share with congregants.  It is Ruth who calls to thank members who organize the oneg, and help out before and after services with set-up and clean-up.

We feel so very blessed to have Ruth in our lives, but we don’t want to be selfish with her or the many gifts that she gives to our congregation, so we include here one of her healthy recipes.  As Ruth always says, “Shake it easy!”

For Healthy Eating — a Recipe by Ruth — Zucchini Squash

You will need a 10″ Pyrex pie plate or equal (not metal)

4 medium size squash cut to 1 inch, then cut crosswise to 1/8 inch
1 medium sized apple peeled and sliced thin
1/2 sweet onion cut small
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of Mrs. Dash (or equal)
1 tablespoon organic ketchup
1 stalk of celery, peeled and cut to 1/2 inch in length


Sautee onions in oven for 8 minutes with oil.  Then remove from oven and put all veggies into the plate and toss with spatula until everything is combined.  Put back in oven for 30 minutes at 330 and toss again (take care not to get burned).  Now cover it tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 25-30 minutes at 330 degrees until done.


[This appeared in the May 2011 issue of Charlotte Jewish News]

Pesach: we have fun for a reason

photo by Seth Holtzman

We tell scary stories at Passover.  The accounts of the ten plagues of Egypt, from frogs to locusts to the death of the first-born – are not easy to hear.  Still, we love Pesach.  Children claim it as their favorite holiday.  Pesach is connected with family and fun, with joy and laughter and warmth.

Perhaps the reason for the seeming contradiction is that we plug into the feeling of liberation rather than the terror of the plagues.  We connect the newness and freedom of this time of year to a familiar biblical tale of freedom from bondage.

It’s not hard to feel the sense of our own liberation.  We’ve just come out of winter to find the world renewing.  Our first daffodils are to be seen; the witch hazel is blooming.  The world is coming alive again after the dark and narrow winter days.

By the time we gather for Passover, spring is fully and completely here.  We are ready to celebrate.  We welcome with joy not only the bright colors of spring after a long, grey winter, but also our retelling of an ancient story that describes our birth as a nation and a people.

Our community Seder is fun from start to finish.  We have occasionally used multitudes of frogs to decorate our tables, and they add to the brightness and joy of the festivities.  We hear from Moses and Miriam, and we dance around the tables singing at Pharaoh to “let my people go.”  We revel in the openness of Pesach, and we have fun for a reason:  telling these stories underlines the fact that we have (again) escaped the narrow, grey spaces.  We are free to enjoy the colorful miracles of another year.

[A version of this piece appeared in the April 2011 Charlotte Jewish News]

Interfaith in the Air

When the conversation goes right, it opens to a vision.  We catch a glimpse of a world at peace, a world that knows to celebrate human kindness and generosity in any form.  It is the world we long for.

I crave this world.  I look for opportunities to speak to people about what our world needs from all of us – regardless of faith or affiliation, regardless of ethnicity or language.

You never know who your conversation partners might be.  You cannot know what they will teach you or what you might gift to them.  But find one, and it can shift what you know about this world.  Truly, it may change your life.

I was on a plane back to the Piedmont.  It was just after Charlotte-Douglas International Airport opened again after the first snow and ice storm of the New Year.  I sat down with my book on Lamentations, a short collection of poetry from the Hebrew Bible.

I wore my kippah, a traditional Jewish head covering.

A man sat next to me in the aisle.  I am not sure if it was the book or the kippah, and I honestly don’t remember his first question.  But it was a first question that led to one of the deepest conversations I have ever had about matters of faith.

We spoke about our background.  We compared and contrasted his Christian sense of being born in sin with my Jewish sense about a broken humanity contending with a broken world.  The outcome of either belief was not dissimilar: Both of us longed to reach out for grace and healing.  We knew it was our obligation to try, again and again, to act in a way that could invite goodness.

“Be a mentsch,” I said.  “A good person.”

“Love Christ,” he said.

I mentioned the way atheist friends of mine aspired to exactly the same goals.  We could recognize the basic humanity of all who strove for goodness.

All the time we spoke, I felt that the man beside me was on some kind of search, questing after some kind of truth.  I was impressed at how articulate he was in explaining his own beliefs.  I was even more impressed that he never once spoke as if he had to convince me that his faith was superior to mine.

He didn’t try to change me.  He listened.

I didn’t try to change him.  I listened.

Finally, he pulled out his bible and told me which passage he’d been studying.

We looked at the passage together.  We explained what we both saw in the passage.

And then, as we landed and taxied on the tarmac, this man told me he had been thinking of becoming a minister.

He had been struggling for a long time with the idea.  He has a good job, and his children are young.  Life was stable as it was.

I asked him if he could simply go inside and ask himself: What did he long for?  What did he feel God longed for?

He said he could hear the phone ringing.

“I haven’t picked up the phone,” he said.

“Well,” I said, “if you decide to pick up, remember it’s a local call.”

It is now weeks after this conversation and I admit that I am hoping and praying that whatever he decides, this young man listens to his heart and feeds his soul.

That is what he did for me.  I won’t forget it.

[This piece was printed in the Neighbors section of the Charlotte Observer on January 30, 2011]

Even a small hate crime should spark a big outrage

[This article appeared in the Charlotte Observer Friday, October 16th. ]

I wish I had looked out the window.

But I was busy teaching my students – students who had been studying the long and terrible history of anti-Semitism all semester.

Had the blinds been pulled up, had we looked out our windows, we would have seen that this history has not ended. We are living with it still.

Just outside the windows of my classroom, the succah belonging to UNC Charlotte’s Hillel, our campus Jewish Student organization, tottered on its poles as if it had been battered and struck.

Which, in fact, it had.

Over fall break, some person or persons had stolen the succah’s bamboo coverings. The same malevolent souls had deliberately bent and ruined the frame of the succah beyond repair.

The large sign decorated with a Star of David and with Hillel’s name was defaced with a small, but legible comment: “F.U.”

The campus police have determined that the succah was damaged purposefully and have declared it a hate crime, in part because other Hillel signage on campus has been defaced.

For two years I functioned as UNC Charlotte Hillel’s director. I know first hand how hard these students work with little in the way of resources. Their hope? To cultivate and nurture Jewish life and to offer educational programs so that all students can learn about the heritage, traditions, customs and rich diversity of Jewish life.

These students are working in the trenches. UNCC has no Hillel House. Students do not attend UNCC because of all it offers the Jewish community – they go to UNC Chapel Hill for such things. Although UNC boasts a Judaic Studies minor and a respected faculty that includes nationally known Judaic scholar John Reeves, our efforts to encourage Jewish learning, Jewish culture and Jewish community go largely unnoticed by those eager to support those same things at other universities in this state.

These students are doing lonely work with great heart and great courage.

I wish I had looked out the window that day to point out to my own students how much work has yet to be done to make Jews – in fact to make any minority – safe from hate crimes. No one deserves to have the emblems of their heritage destroyed and defaced. No one in this country should fear attack for their religion, their skin color, their sexual orientation.

What do I now wish I could see at the heart of our campus, looking out from the window of my classroom?

Where the succah stood, another one – new and proud. Succot may be over; the symbol of that fragile booth which sheltered the Israelites can still stand as a reminder that everyone deserves protection from hate.

I wish that quadrangle, the one surrounding Belk’s tower, were filled with students protesting this terrible act of viciousness.

Can UNCC’s student organizations band together to demonstrate for tolerance and diversity?

Can Charlotte’s Jewish community take note of the resources at UNCC and resolve to support the Hillel students, as well as the study of Judaism and Jewish culture?

Don’t leave us to struggle without resources, without help. We need your support.

Can area congregations step forward? My congregation, Temple Or Olam, is raising money to help the Hillel association replace the succah. Will you join us in showing these young people that we care?

Can the people of our region stand together and say, “Not in our town” – “Not at our university” – “Not in our home”?

Please. Look out the window.