05/27/2016 09:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
May 27, 2016


We leave for Israel on Sunday, May 29th. More than 40 people are joining me, my wife, Lisa, and Rabbi Joshua Herman for a trip that will inspire, awaken, and engage us. Israel is called “Eretz Yisrael” the land of Israel. It’s also called “Ha’aretz” The Land, because the definite article says everything we need to know about our historical and modern aspirations for Israel. This is The Land that our ancestors aspired to return to since the Babylonian exile in 586 BCE; and though the Israelites returned to rebuild the Temple, not everyone returned, and the second Temple was destroyed forever by the Romans in 70 CE. Books of the Bible such as Lamentations record the yearnings for The Land and the hope that one day our people would return.

                The significance of these dates in history moves the proverbial pointer on our timeline to before the Common Era as the beginning of our hope for a return to The Land. The Holocaust became a reason for modern Israel, but Israel wasn’t predicated on the Holocaust. It was always predicated on an age-old and aching hope that the promise God made to our patriarchs and matriarchs would be fulfilled one day. Modern day Israel became a salvation for the victims of the Holocaust who fled a war-torn and deeply anti-Semitic Europe. Since 1948, generations of Jews have called Israel the only home they’ve known, and for many others the land to which they came home. Our ancient hope has been realized in the establishment of the modern State of Israel.

                On Sunday morning, when we arrive together to see, feel, hear, touch, and smell The Land, we will be forever changed by its history and modernity, its democracy and religious observances, its science and mysticism, and by its people and customs.

                Highlights of our trip include an event at the Shamir Peace Center, a visit to Safed, the Jewish mystical city, the Dubrovin Farm for dinner and Israeli dancing, and Jeep rides for close-up encounters to the north where soldiers will educate us about the border with Syria. Jerusalem is a high point for all of us and will feature time at the Western Wall and Shabbat in the Holy City. A tour of Masada and the Dead Sea will take us to new heights and to the lowest place on earth. Yad Vashem and the Knesset will be unique moments for us. We have special speakers and lectures, amazing accommodations, delicious meals and great transportation, including a chartered bus with Wi-Fi and espresso, and camel rides without Wi-Fi.

                Torah tells the story of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, who report to the Israelite people what they observed in the Land they were about to enter and possess. They described people and produce, hills and valleys that exceeded their imaginations and dwarfed them by comparison. It was a report that exhilarated them about the place that God promised would be “flowing with milk and honey.” With faith in themselves and in God’s presence, they made their way forward to begin what would be the journey of a people that, notwithstanding its trials and tribulations, persevered and triumphed to fulfill its mission to be “a light unto the nations.”

                So, we begin. From north to south and east to west, we’ll replace myths with facts about The Land and its people; and, our time together we’ll grow as friends as we learn that Israel is our Land and our People, too.

You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.

05/12/2016 12:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
May 13, 2016

Rabbi Samuel E. Karff is a leader among us. His reputation as a seminal rabbi in the Reform movement follows him to this day. His legacy at Beth Israel is without qualification and unparalleled. The privilege to be connected to Rabbi Karff’s name lends honor to those who receive the Rabbi Samuel E. Karff Leadership Award, which Congregation Beth Israel bestows on significant leaders every two years. This Shabbat, Karen and Joe Chesnick, Jr., and Roslyn and Ricky Haikin will receive the award. Their unique leadership in our congregation makes them obvious choices to be added to the list of those who have been similarly identified as Karff Leadership honorees. 

Karen and Joe are among the kindest and hardest working members of Beth Israel. Karen has significantly added to the substance and joy of many committees, including membership and religious school, and Sisterhood. When Hurricane Katrina brought hundreds to Beth Israel from Touro Synagogue in New Orleans, Karen and Joe exemplified the congregation’s spirit with generous help. Touro’s rabbi at the time remembers Karen and Joe’s call to him as his family moved into a temporary apartment in Houston. Karen and Joe asked them what style furniture they preferred. The rabbi was astounded; he was grateful just to have any furniture, but Karen and Joe wanted them to feel at home. When Beth Israel began its 160th anniversary, Joe stepped up to co-chair the 160th committee with Roslyn Haikin. Joe masterfully coordinated the business side of the project of commissioning the “People’s Torah” from which we read every Shabbat. But, all this came years after Joe’s stellar service on our Board of Trustees and years as Treasurer and President. Leadership runs in Karen and Joe’s family; Karen’s parents, Yvonne and Arnold Miller, served as great role models of leadership in their synagogue in Waco, Texas, and for all of us at Greene Family Camp. Joe’s parents, Joyce and Joe, Sr., have served in the business community and Joyce ably led cemetery construction and served as President of Beth Israel’s Board. Joe and Karen’s blessings are especially extended to their children and grandchildren, for whom they have unconditional love. We are so grateful to Karen and Joe for their leadership and overjoyed to bind their names to our beloved Rabbi Samuel E. Karff. 

Roslyn and Ricky Haikin are remarkably able leaders and friends among us. Across the campus, Congregation Beth Israel and Shlenker School have benefited from their hands and their hearts. Ricky served as President of the Shlenker School Board and also as a Trustee of the Beth Israel Board, in addition to many roles when he was called. His can-do attitude and willingness to provide insight and advice have made him an invaluable part of our congregation’s stellar reputation. Roslyn has left nothing undone in her time at Shlenker School and on Beth Israel’s Board and Executive Committee. From creative decorations for seemingly every event on campus to endless energy to undertake tasks of enormous proportions, Roslyn has made an indelible impression on all of us. Her master lessons on Torah for families and individuals who lent their hands to scribe the “People’s Torah” have become legendary and a permanent part of Beth Israel’s 160th anniversary experience. Roslyn and Ricky’s parents also led them by example. Mike Haikin, of blessed memory, whom I remember well, was a man of strength who inspired others who followed after him. Roslyn’s parents, Bernie and Sally Fuchs, continue to stand by their daughter and by all of us with boundless courage and determination. Roslyn and Ricky are proud of their children and grandparents whom they adore and enjoy watching grow and learn at Shlenker School. There is nothing the entire family wouldn’t do for the well-being and continued strength of Congregation Beth Israel. We are so grateful to Roslyn and Ricky for their leadership and overjoyed to bind their names to our beloved Rabbi Samuel E. Karff. 

Let May 13, 2016, forever be noted for the beauty of the Sabbath and its blessings when we honor Karen and Joe Chesnick, Jr., and Roslyn and Ricky Haikin with the Rabbi Samuel E. Karff Leadership award. May they and their families go from strength to strength. May all of us at Congregation Beth Israel thrive on the blessings of our honorees for years to come. With deepest gratitude and thanks to all who make Beth Israel our spiritual home and center of Jewish life, Shabbat Shalom. 

Worship Services will begin in the Sanctuary at 6:30pm. Attend live or Livestream on the internet at and click the green box.  

05/06/2016 12:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
May 6, 2016


Mother’s Day has been celebrated for centuries. In America, it was created by Anna Jarvis in 1908, and became an official U.S. holiday in 1914. Jarvis had hopes that the day would bring honor to mothers through appropriate expressions of gratitude, including prayers. She was unhappy with the commercialization that overtook the holiday and even aimed to remove the new holiday from the calendar. Obviously, she couldn’t undo what she did. Hallmark and E-cards would go out of business without Mother’s Day, not to mention phone companies that log it as their busiest day of the year.

                This Mother’s Day, many mothers will be treated to flowers, cards, gifts and mimosas. They’re all splendid ways of showing affection to the one who reared us from childhood. Some of us have the pleasure of our mother’s company still. Even if she’s not nearby, the phone call or Skype visit and occasional holiday weekend make time with mom special. Rather than a mother-child relationship it’s possibly grown to become something like two adult friends who share a unique bond. My calls to my mother two or three times each week assure me that she’s fine even five years after my father’s death. My mother, with whom I share humor and friendship, and who seems to be as busy as me, frequently tells me on the phone, “My aim is to stay healthy and never cause you any concern about me.” To which I often reply, “One day you will and it’s quite alright. I love you.”

                Some have only memories of their mother’s love. Though gone from life there is something indelible about her impress on their life experiences. Khalil Gibran wrote, “The mother is everything --- she is our consolation in sorrow, our hope in misery, and our strength in weakness. She is the source of love, mercy, sympathy and forgiveness. They who lose their mother lose a pure soul who blesses and guards them constantly. Everything in nature bespeaks the mother. The sun is the mother of earth and gives it its nourishment of heat; it never leaves the universe at night until it has put the earth to sleep to the song of the sea and the hymn of birds and brooks. And this earth is the mother of trees and flowers. It produces them, nurses them, and weans them. The trees and flowers become kind mothers of their great fruits and seeds. And the mother, the prototype of all existence, is the eternal spirit, full of beauty and love.”

                A mother’s absence is felt deep in the pit of one’s soul. Unless an aunt or surrogate has filled the space, there remains a constant gnawing for her voice, her touch and her love. Judaism teaches in a Mishnah, “It is one thing to be loved; it is another thing to know that you are loved.” I often interpret it to mean that “to be loved” is in the present tense. The touch and the embrace are available to us. “To know that you are loved” continues even after they’re gone. It’s a conscious awareness of something that cannot be retrieved physically, but endures within us spiritually and emotionally. Though it isn’t the same, it’s the best part of what remains. In the last stanza of a poem by Rabbi Morris Adler, he wrote “Those I have loved, though now beyond my view, have given form and quality to my being. They have led me into the wise universe I continue to inhabit, and their presence is more vital to me than their absence. What Thou givest , O Lord, Thou takest not away, and bounties once granted shed their radiance evermore.”

                In all the ways we love our mothers, may their lives and their gifts to us touch our hearts and our souls. May the best in them be the best in us. God bless mothers and their children. Happy Mother’s Day, mom.

You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.

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