Sunday, March 29, 2015

Rabbi's Annual Meeting Report - 2015

Temple Emanuel Denver
Annual Meeting
Rabbi’s Report
Rabbi Joseph R. Black
March 20, 2015
Dear Friends,

In the Jewish mystical tradition, numbers have important significance.  The ancient practice of Gematria involves taking the numerical value of words and phrases and finding hidden meaning in these numbers.  Since tonight is the 140th annual meeting of Temple Emanuel, I thought I would try to find some significance in the number 140.  Looking into the torah, I discovered that the Hebrew word, הקהל (HaKahal) adds up to 140.  הקהל means “The community”

Truly, I can think of no better word to sum up this past year than הקהל.  More than anything else, over the past 12 months, we have been focusing on building our community and preparing for important changes that have already taken place and soon will be upon us.  Building a Kahal is not easy.  It is more than simply offering programs – although we did offer an amazing array of opportunities for involvement.  But to be fully successful, it requires that we open multiple doorways or portals of entry to every part of our community – finding ways to engage everyone in meaningful and important ways.

What follows are some of the key highlights of the past year for me and the staff:

Worship initiatives.
High Holy Days:
This past year we added to our Shema Koleynu service in the sanctuary – integrating more visual tefillah elements and adding considerably to the musicians and music we played

We also created an interactive guide for the holidays to help each member of the temple chart their own course through the holidays – indicating which services and programs were appropriate for differing interests and age-groups

Shabbat Mornings:

Our Weekly Torah Study (Parashat HaShavua) is continuing to grow and flourish.  On any given week, anywhere from 35-50 people come to Temple at 9:00 AM, sit around a table and study the weekly Torah portion.  This class is taught by all of our clergy.  The fact that each of our Clergy members brings their own unique perspective and experience to the table means that every week is different and exciting.  The community of students who gather every week has become very strong.  At the same time, new people are continually joining the group.  This is a vital and exciting part of our Shabbat and Educational vision.

Our Community Shabbat Morning Services is also flourishing.  We have moved into one of the Social Halls.  Cantor Sacks is the coordinator of this service and a constant presence, while Rabbi Immerman, Rabbi Foster, Steve Brodsky and I rotate in and out.  This service has grown exponentially.  Utilizing new music, lay-led divrei torah (short torah commentary) and lots of enthusiastic participation, it is a wonderful addition to the spiritual life of Temple Emanuel.

Young Family Shabbat Programs:

The 2nd Friday and 3rd Saturday of every month we welcome young families with small children to a spirited and spiritual Shabbat experience – filled with dancing, singing, multiple activities.  It has become a great way for young families to come tougher and experience Shabbat  as well as connecting to our clergy, staff and congregation.

Sanctuary sound improvements:  Thanks to a generous gift that will soon be announced, we are in the process of upgrading our sound system in the main Sanctuary.  This will enable us to not only make it easier for everyone to hear what is happening, but it will also allow us to hold special programs like Shabbat and Rosh HaShanah Unplugged, Shema Koleynu and concerts without bringing in extra sound equipment.  We hope to have everything in place this summer.

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Additional Programmatic Innovations (not a complete list):

Hesed (Healing, Empowering and Serving at Emanuel Denver)
Out of last year’s successful work on mental health issues in the community, we created a mental health task force that split away from HESED

HESED is partnering with other congregation and communities to address the issues of gun violence.  they will be co-hosting and important event on march 31 with rabbi Joel Mosbacher entitled “Do not stand idly by” – this program will deal with how we, as a community can come together in unity over ending the plague of gun violence that is engulfing our nation

Expanded Adult Education Offerings:
In order to fulfill our congregational vision of being a community of life-long learners, we have continued to add to our offerings for Adult Education – under the leadership and coordination of Cantor Elizabeth Sacks.  These have ranged from hosting the iEngage program, to weekly Talmud classes, book groups hosted by our Librarian and Assistant Principal, Rita Dahlke, Cantor Heit’s “Lunch and Learn,” and a variety of topical and affinity group discussion groups. 

We have had a special focus on Israel programs this year.  We offered several versions of the iEngage program and followed it up with 4 weeks of discussion around current issues in Israel – culminating in last Tuesday nights Israel election follow-up discussion.  We invited prominent community leaders to help co-facilitate these discussions with our clergy.  We plan to continue these groups as long as there is interest.

Temple Emanuel was proud of house community-wide events sponsored by AIPAC, and J-Street in which the community came together in respectful forums to hear a wide variety of perspectives on how we, as American Jews, can and should show our love of and support for the State of Israel.

We hosted a community-wide Shavuot celebration where we invited community leaders to share their most important verse from the Torah – a very powerful evening

In preparation for the Neshama Carelbach concert, Cantors Heit and Sacks taught a class on “Jewish Gospel”

We brought in several important speakers as teachers and scholars in residence including:
·         Poet and Liturgist Alden Solovy
·         Journalist Uriel Heilman of JTA
·         Rabbi Mark Glickman  - interim rabbi of of Congregation Har HaShem in Boulder will be  speaking about his fascinating book about the Cairo Geniza this coming Thursday night
·         And we will be hosting Rabbi Jonah Pesner – Executive Vice President of the URJ and Director of the RAC in DC the 1st weekend of May.  Rabbi Pesner will speak about what it means to be an Engaged Congregation. We also will be having a very special event on May 3rd – the last Day of Religious school during which we will be inviting religious school families to come together in conversation as we envision the future of our congregation.  You will be learning a lot more about this in the days and weeks to come.
We hosted many Musicians including:
·         Sheldon Lowe
·         Michelle Citrin
·         Ori Naftali Band
·         Neshama Carelbach, Josh Nelson  - their band and the Freedom Project Gospel choir – annual fundraiser honoring Janet Bronitsky
Last Summer’s Israel Trip truly was a powerful experience – 44 of us came together at a difficult time – but we forged bonds – not only with one another, but also with the land and people.

Next year I am excited to announce that Sue and I will be leading trips to Cuba and Israel.

Last Summers’ Interns – Yael Rooks Rapport, Sam Kaye and Josh Fixler all brought energy and excitement to both Shwayder Camp and Temple Emanuel.

Shwayder Gala
We celebrated Shwayder Camp’s 65th anniversary in style with a wonderful Gala event. 

Neshama Carelbach and Josh Nelson Fundraiser
Continuing our tradition of offering a concert of contemporary Jewish music as our main fundraiser of the year, the weekend with Neshama Carlebach and Josh Nelson was fantastic.  Under the direction of Francie Miran, our Development Manager, and led by lay co-chairs, Phyllis Adler, Susie Cook and Laurie Saltzman, and a very hard-working committee, the weekend was an unqualified success – financially, programmatically and communally.  Not only did Neshama, Josh and their band  - along with the Freedom Project Gospel Choir put on an amazing concert on Saturday night, Josh also led a “Warehouse Shabbat” service at the Mercury Café for our Young Adults and the two of them gave a rousing family concert at Religious School.
We honored our beloved Janet and raised a significant amount of money in her honor.
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BUILDING COMMUNITY with The Temple Leadership
Our President, Ellen Abrams, had a very busy first year in office.  As we will hear at services when she speaks tonight, she has been intimately involved in the Shwayder campaign, the Executive Director search committee and so many other areas.  She is a constant presence here at Temple and we meet together on a regular basis – along with Janet Bronitsky and Sr. Director, Cantor Sacks.  Ellen is a dedicated and hard-working, visionary leader who shares our dream of helping Temple Emanuel enter into a new world of cutting edge leadership and innovation.  She truly is a blessing.

Our trustees and officers have worked tirelessly to ensure that our vision is in line with our deeds and that we will have the resources and resilience to continue to grow.
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Susan Wartchow – Director of our ECC
WOW! What can we say about Susan?  Her incredible energy, enthusiasm, professionalism, wacky sense of humor, visionary leadership has transformed our ECC.  Parents and teachers alike cannot say enough about the many amazing skills and changes she has made.  But it’s not only here at Temple Emanuel – or even in Denver.  National leaders in early childhood have all been put on notice that she is a force to be reckoned with in the field of early childhood.

Robyn Kaplan- Director of Youth Engagement and Commuications
Robyn joined our team this past summer after leading the IST trip.  She had made wonderful connections with our young people and is energetically building our Youth program.  We hosted a regional JYG kallah last month and are looking forward to hosting the National NASHIR songleading workshop next month

Patricia Lackner – Clergy Assistant
Patricia is no stranger to Temple.  She and her family are long-time members of our congregation.  She also teaches in our religious school and Confirmation program. She brings a warmth, generous spirit and calm competence to what is a very difficult and challenging role as she juggles our clergy schedules, works with families and brings a wonderful, positive attitude to the office.

Steve Brodsky – Engagement Director and Artist in Residence
We are blessed to have Steve on our team in a full-time capacity.  Steve has been part of Temple Emanuel longer than almost anybody else on our staff – starting from his days as Youth Director and Shwayder Camp Director, Steve knows tis congregation inside and out.  His musical contributions are too numerous to mention – we are who we are today largely because of his amazing talents as a musician, organizer, teacher and caring soul.  To be able to see him every day in the office is a blessing for me.

Rabbi Foster continues to be good friend, a trusted colleague and an important mentor.  His commitment to my success means the world to me.  I continue to be humbled and honored to be able to follow in his footsteps.  Over the past 5 years we have worked hard to create a paradigm for what we truly feel is a model for other Emeriti/Successors. I appreciate his candor, advice and partnership.  He is a “Rabbi’s Rabbi” and I feel blessed to be able to learn from him and build on his vision for the sacred congregation.

Rabbi Brian Immerman
Rabbi Immerman is not only a wonderful rabbi – he has brought a wide portfolio of skills to our congregation.  His passion for youth, social justice, torah and community has enabled him to bond with our confirmation class and forge strong connections with individuals, families, staff and committees as well.  He has worked to strengthen and grow our Hineyni Project for Young adults. WE are especially excited about the Shabbat at the Merc programs that came out of last years and this years’ Josh Nelson and Neshama Carlebach concerts.

Rabbi Immerman continues to grow the vision of HESED and is becoming increasingly active in our community as a leader for social justice and change.

Cantor Elizabeth Sacks
Cantor Sacks continues to bring so many different skills to our congregation that it is almost impossible to list them all.  Her leadership, organization, calm presence and h9igh expectations of herself and all of those around her have helped to raise the bar for all of us.  She has partnered beautifully with Cantor Heit, Rabbi Immerman, Steve Brodsky and me as we chart new courses of creative and innovative worship.

Ron Leff, our Director of Education, is a wealth of knowledge.  He is committed to creating the best possible educational environment for our students. Our school is bursting at the seams – his integration of new ideas for learning and growing as a school are on the cutting edge of Jewish education nationally. Ron also plays a vital role in our staff by helping all of us see the big picture when, all too often, we get wrapped up in our own arenas. 

Francie Miran – Development Manager
Francie has done an excellent job coordinating multiple projects for our congregation.  This year she has juggeled between the Shwayder 65 Campaign, our annual fundraiser with Neshama Carlebach and Josh Nelson – which raised record – breaking amounts of money, the ECC fundraiser, our Live On Campaign but she is also constantly vigilant in her t search for creative and meaningful ways to support our community.  From leading our 5:30 lay-led service to always being ready and eager to pitch in, her contributions to the overall wellbeing of our congregation go far beyond her fund-raising acumen.  She is a vital part of our staff team.

Jodie Abrams – Camp Director
In her 2nd full year as Camp Director, Jodie has seamlessly integrated herself into the staff team.  She teaches Confirmation on Wednesday nights, helped Chaperone the NY trip and is always ready to be a part of anything we do.  She and her staff have worked tirelessly to bring new programmatic and organizational facets to Shwayder and she continues to be become involved in several national camping initiatives.  Camp enrollment has never been higher and she is working tirelessly on both helping to raise funds and implement physical and programmatic changes into Shwayder for the future.  Along with Assistant Director Simi Adler, we are poised to grow and build on the legacy of excellence that Shwayder Camp has always been known for.

Rayna WandelReligious School Assistant
Rayna brings a wealth of experience to her position.  In addition to her responsibilities with the Religious School, she also is in charge of our Temple Bulletin.  Her bright and cheery disposition have added a wonderful energy to our office.

Julie Lucas, our bookkeeper, keeps us all in line with her laughter and enthusiasm.

Rita Dahlke, our religious school Assistant Principal and Librarian does a wonderful job making sure that everything is in place in our school programs.  Her exciting vision for our Library is quickly coming to fruition and we are very excited about where she is taking us.

Sura Veta, our receptionist, is the voice of Temple Emanuel – her warm welcome makes everyone feel at home the minute they call or step through our doors.

Cairo Lopez and the rest of the maintenance staff do an incredible job of keeping our building spotless and making sure that every service and program is set up.

And now a word about two very special and vitally important members of our team.

Cantor Regina Heit has served our congregation as Cantor and Senior Cantor for the past 19 years.  Her beautiful voice is only matched by her beautiful soul.  Her boundless energy and enthusiasm never cease to amaze me.  She is a passionate teacher of Torah and a wealth of knowledge about everything from Torah to the history of the Monarchy, to Norwegian Vikings.  She is a counselor to many and a dear friend to all.  We all know that this is her last year as our Senior Cantor and her leaving will be very difficult.  Regina – you taught this congregation how to sing and your song will always be a part of our lives.  We will be honoring Cantor Heit in January as she and Matthew begin an exciting new chapter of their lives.  We are all thrilled for her and are especially grateful that Regina will continue as part of the Emanuel Family in her role of Cantor Emerita.

Finally – a word about my co-CEOJanet Bronitsky.  It’s hard to believe that we only have a few short months left to work together.  For 25 years, Janet has nurtured this congregation with love, firmness and absolute dedication.  As many of you know, Janet never minces her words.  She speaks her mind and lets you know what she is thinking – no matter what.  I so appreciate that.  She has helped me learn about this congregation in almost every arena – from finances and budgets, to personalities and potential mine-fields. Together with our congregation leadership, we work to bring our Temple to new heights of program, involvement and spiritual depth. We all have been incredibly fortunate to have her as our Executive Director.  She has created a legacy of excellence that will help propel us firmly and responsibly into the future.  There is no doubt in my mind that she is the best in her field – bar none.  Thank you Janet.

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I cannot possibly speak to you tonight without publicly acknowledging my beloved wife.  Sue has always been my rock and support.  It’s hard to be an introvert married to an extrovert – just ask her – but any successes that I have had – personally, professionally artistically – I must attribute them to my love and my muse.

As we enter into our 140th year as a congregation- there is so much for which we can and should be thankful.  For all of us who are a part of our Kahal – our community – Thank you for entrusting this sacred congregation in our hands.  I know that I speak for the entire staff when I say that we are truly blessed.

Thank you for providing me with this incredible opportunity to serve this sacred community of Temple Emanuel.  May we continue to go and grow from strength to strength.


Rabbi Joseph R. Black

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Prayer For The Mid-Point of a Legislative Session

Our God and God of all people:
You who have implanted within us an urgency to make a difference…
As we come together on this day of deliberation – let us take a moment to reflect on the fact that we have reached the mid-point of our legislative calendar.  As in any endeavor with which we engage ourselves, it is important that we use milestones and measures to reflect on our accomplishments to date. 
Let us look back on the days and weeks that have brought us to this point. Let us acknowledge the fact that, while the end is in sight, the list of tasks that lay unfinished grows increasingly heavy.
Now is a time for taking stock in ourselves and our souls – as a legislative body and as unique individuals created in the image of a loving Creator. 
We ask ourselves these questions that rise up from the depths of our souls:
·        Have I realized the goals that I set for myself?
·        Have I allowed partisanship to muddy the waters of promise?
·        Have my words and my deeds been consistent with my values?
·        Have I done all that I could to represent the men and women who sent me here to do this sacred work?
These are not easy questions to answer. They can keep us awake at night.  And yet they are vitally important - for it is only when our souls are tested that we come to understand both our limits and our strengths.  Throughout history, it has often been the immediacy of urgency that has pushed men and women of greatness to find the strength and courage to work together in harmony for the sake of the common good.
God, we pray that hubris might not triumph over humility.  Help these men and women work together to do the vitally important work of shepherding our great state of Colorado towards paths of compassion and wholeness.  Heal our divisions, God.  Bless the holy work of this chamber so that when they reach the end of their session, they will do so with a sense of satisfaction of a job well done.  AMEN

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Reflections on AIPAC, Parashat Ki Tissa and "The Speech"

March 6, 2015
Rabbi Joseph R. Black – Temple Emanuel – Denver, CO

This past week I attended the AIPAC policy conference in DC.
Over the course of three days 16,000 people – Jews, Christians and concerned concerned citizens came together to not only voice their support for the Jewish State – but also to learn, grow and take an active part in our political system by lobbying our elected officials on matters that are crucial to the State of Israel.

While at the Policy Conference, I attended seminars and heard speakers on topics as diverse as:
o   Israeli agricultural and technological innovation
o   Fundamentalist Christian support of Israel
o   Combatting BDS:  Boycott, divestment and Sanction
o   Anti-Semitism on College Campuses
o   The history of ISIS
o   And, of course, the dangers of a nuclear Iran – punctuated by two speeches by Benjamin Netanyahu – one to AIPAC, the other to a joint session of Congress

We heard from politicians from across the political spectrum sharing their love of and support for the State of Israel.  We heard the testimonies of men, women and children who have benefitted from Israeli technology:  from Solar power to bionic prosthetic limbs.

On Monday, we gathered on Capitol Hill to lobby our senators and congress people and encourage them to continue their support of Israel and to do whatever they could to keep the pressure on Iran – the world’s largest and most dangerous supporter of global terrorism.

Our goal  as lobbyists was very clear:  we wanted our elected officials to hear, unequivocally, that the specter of a nuclear Iran was disastrous – not only to Israel, but to the entire Western World.

This was my third policy conference and it was, by all measures, the largest pro-Israel gathering ever.  I was impressed not only by the way that the conference was organized – but also by the diversity of the delegates.  Unlike the picture that some want to paint of AIPAC as a mouthpiece of the far right, we were joined by progressives, leftists, Gays and Lesbians, young and old, religious and secular and everyone in between. AIPAC is making a concentrated effort to change its image and I, for one, am very impressed. This summer, I will be travelling to Israel with a delegation of so-called “progressive” American Rabbis and I have already registered to return to the policy conference next year with what I hope will be a large and robust Temple Emanuel contingent.

Our torah portion for this Shabbat, Ki Tissa:  sets up a powerful paradigm – a “split screen” of action which shows us, on the one hand, Moses and God engaged in an intense dialogue on the top of Mt Sinai. Moses begs to see God’s face  - to understand and commune with the Divine.  And all of this happens at the same moment that the Israelites are building the Golden Calf and violating the very intimacy and connectivity that Moses so desperately seeks.

In our text, as Moses and Joshua are coming down the mountain to hear the people reveling after the creation of the Golden Calf we read the following: 
Exodus 32:  17-18                                           
v¤J«n›k¤t r¤nt«H³u v«g¥r‰C oŠg¨v kIe›,¤t ‹gªJIv±h g©n§J°H³u   zh
v¨rUc±D ,Ib…g kIe ih¥t r¤nt«H³u   jh :v®b£j©N‹C v¨n¨j‰k¦n kIe
 :‹g¥n«J hˆf«b¨t ,IB‹g kIe v¨JUk£j ,Ib…g kIe ih¥t±u

When Joshua heard the sound of the people in their celebrations, he said to Moses:  “There is the sound of songs of war in the camp!”  And Moses said:  “This is not the sound of songs of bravery; this is not the sound of songs of weakness, this is the sound of  (just) songs ….. that I hear.”

It’s a strange passage – there seems to be something missing in Moses’ reply.   Joshua hears the sound of the revelers celebrating the Golden Calf – he hears the intensity of their voices – and yet, he can’t quite pinpoint exactly what they are singing about.  Moses seems to be teaching Joshua that it is not the message of the song that they are hearing that is disturbing – rather, the sound of the singers is chilling to his ear because instead of glorifying God, its purpose was to amplify the sin that was being committed.  It was not a song of bravery or weakness – it was merely the people reveling in the sound of their own voices.

As I reflect on the aftermath of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s now famous speech to the joint session of congress, I too – along with all of us – have heard the cries and outbursts in the Jewish community:

I’ve heard…..

·     Cries of heroics and cries of praise of Netanyahu – here is a man who “tells it like it is” – who dares,, like Esther in the story of Purim that we read on Wednesday night – to speak truth to power – no matter what the consequences…

·       Cries of cynicism – those who state that Netanyahu did nothing more than promote his own political agenda – that he will use the images of thundering applause in the sacred Halls of the United States Congress to bolster his own political future and thumb his nose at the Obama administration

·       Cries of appreciation for our own elected officials who saw the danger of trying to negotiate with Iran and had the courage to do what was right and allow Israel to make her case on the world stage

·       Cries of condemnation of our elected officials who chose not to attend the speech

·       Cries of partisan politics – with both sides of the political divide attacking one another over the depth of their support of the State of Israel.

In our text, Moses, when confronted with the sin of the Golden Calf, smashes the sacred Tablets given to him by God.  The damage was done.  They had to be recreated on his second ascent up the mountain.

When we ask ourselves the questions: 

·       What happened in Washington this past week? 

·       Was it an heroic act of leadership, or was it a cynical power play by Bibi Netanyahu to boost his ratings and John Boehner to humiliate the president?

Most people had their minds made up before Netanyahu walked into the House chamber to thundering applause.

There’s no question about it – the speech was powerful, moving and effective in presenting the Prime Minister’s case. 

Whether or not the speech will influence American foreign policy vis-à-vis Israel and Iran is another matter and will be determined in the very near future.

But there is no doubt whatsoever that his presence – and the build-up that preceded it and reaction that followed has certainly impacted the American Jewish and non-Jewish community – and not all for the good, I’m afraid.

My biggest concern is that the sacred bi-partisanship that has surrounded the US-Israel relationship is in danger of being shattered like that first set of tablets that Moses destroyed when he descended from that Mountain top into the chaos of the Golden Calf.  I also fear for the divisions that the speech has stirred up within our own community.

In the follow-up to the speech – in person, in the press and in social media, I have been dismayed at the attacks and counterattacks that we are witnessing – both within the Jewish community and in the general political discourse in our nation - that seem to be using support of Israel and attendance at or reaction to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress as a litmus test one’s pro-Israel Bona Fides.  I have heard politicians being vilified as anti-Israel because of their concerns about the process used in inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak. The fact that senators and representatives with long histories of supporting the State of Israel, of condemning Iranian terror, of being staunch and stalwart friends to the Jewish community, who have visited Israel and witnessed the reality of the Jewish state– who have been unyielding in their belief in a safe and secure middle east – the fact that they are now being labeled as anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel is obscene!

Let me be very clear.  Dialogue and disagreement are key to the creation of a strong and vibrant community.  And yet, when support for the State of Israel becomes a partisan issue, then, my friends, everybody loses.  If this is allowed to continue, I fear for the future of the Jewish State and the support of the United States of America which is essential to her well-being and survival. 

It is interesting to note that AIPAC leadership was initially very concerned about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress exactly because of the potential for divisiveness that it represented.  This concern was justified and we are seeing it play out in real time.  Attacking our elected officials for their support or lack of support for Netanyahu’s speech only serves to deflect us from concentrating on the real, existential issues that face the State of Israel with the specter of a Nuclear Iran.

And so, tonight I want to ask all of us to tone down our rhetoric.  The speech is not the issue.  In 18 days, March 24th, the deadline for reaching an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program will arrive.  If a treaty is concluded (and there is no guarantee that one will, by the way) it will need to be evaluated on its own merits. As National Security advisor Susan Rice said to the AIPAC plenary – “A bad deal is worse than no deal – and the United States will not accept a bad deal with Iran.”  Our task is not to anticipate failure or success, but rather to find ways to unite in our mutual love and support of the State of Israel.

Remember – after Moses destroyed the first set of tablets he once again ascended Mt Sinai to create a second set. 

My friends, damage has been done within our community.  It is time to rebuild, repair, and, if necessary to once again climb the mountain of repair so that we can re-carve out the fundamental principles of partnership and cooperation that are essential for a strong relationship between Israel and the United States.

May our path towards repair be swift and smooth and may peace prevail in Israel and throughout the world.

Shabbat Shalom.